Friday, October 9, 2015

Bound to Vengeance (2015)

Director: José Manuel Cravioto
Notable Cast: Tina Ivlev, Richard Tyson, Bianca Malinowski
Sometimes all it takes is a great poster to get the audience you want hooked. This was the case for Bound to Vengeance with me. While having a release through IFC Midnight AND Scream Factory certainly helps, it wasn’t until I saw the cover/poster next to this opening paragraph that I decided to partake in the film. It’s fortunate that I did because Bound to Vengeance is a brutal and impressively executed modern grindhouse feature worthy of the time for most cult film fans. It’s a slick, sick, and simplistic ride into the social underbelly of sex trafficking powered by a handful of powerhouse performances and guided by the impeccable visuals of director José Manuel Cravioto. Bound to Vengeance is bound to pack a whollup on most viewers and it’s vicious at doing so.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

House (1977)

Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Notable Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Ai Matsubara, Eriko Tanaka, Miki Jinbo, Mieko Sato, Masayo Miyako, Kumiko Oba, Yoko Minamida, Haruko Wanibuchi

When it comes to films that inspire insanity, one has to look no further than Japan. At times it’s mostly outrageous entertainment vomit on screen, as in the case of most of the splatter films, but occasionally there is an inspired artistry to their genre bending and odd approaches like the anti-musical musical The Happiness of the Katakuris that I reviewed earlier this year. This sort of motivated and thoughtful lunacy is where the 1977 film House lies. An often awkward intermingling of comedy, horror, and fantasy, House – also known as Hausu, is a film that deserves a massive “WTF” from its audience, but it’s also very obvious that this was the intent of the film. Thus, it accomplishes what it sets out to do in spades. Gloriously, might I add.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Avenging Fist, The (2001)

Director: Andrew Lau
Notable Cast: Wang Lee Hom, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Stephen Fung, Gigi Leung, Kristy Yang, Cecilia Yip

The Avenging Fist is one of those movies that is far more fascinating in its failures then it ever is in its successes. Not that there is a whole lot to praise about this film, but throughout the film I found myself hooked on just what other bat shit insane thing it would throw at me. Considering the talent in front and behind the camera the film is something of a massive train wreck. While the film never seems to find a footing on any of its one thousand genre elements or various themes, it does crash and in burn in such a spectacular fashion that it’s almost praise worthy in its disastrous ways. A film that owns as a discussion piece for Hong Kong cinema fanatics more than anything. So The Avenging Fist has that going for it.

Halloween II (1981)

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Notable Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter Von Leer, Tawny Moyer

“You don’t know what death is.”

How do you even try to follow up the original Halloween? You know they were going to try with the significant success that the atmospheric slasher had with its audiences, but without John Carpenter in the directorial chair you know it’s not going to quite match. By the time 1981 rolled around though and Halloween II saw its release, the slasher craze that was ignited by the popularity of the first film was booming very quickly. Just the year prior, Friday the 13th decimated the sinners and camp counselors of Crystal Lake with more violence and more gimmicks, so it only seemed natural that Halloween II would actually attempt to up the ante. The results are a bit more mixed than one could hope for, but in the grand scheme of things it’s actually still a pretty effective slasher with enough solid elements to make it a fun and scary romp. No matter how many rumors and issues arose behind the scenes of the film.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Contracted: Phase II (2015)

Director: Josh Forbes
Notable Cast: Matt Mercer, Marianna Palka, Morgan Peter Brown, Anna Lore, Laurel Vail, Peter Cilella

There seemed to be a decent amount of fanfare for the first Contracted film when it dropped. However, I wasn’t nearly as keen about it as some folks and ended up giving it a fairly luke warm review in the end. It had some solid effects and some great atmosphere, but when the audience doesn’t care about the characters or some of the silly plot progressions it’s hard to really enjoy a body horror flick like that. Contracted was popular enough that it did end up with a green lit sequel, the somewhat awesomely titled Contracted: Phase II. Unfortunately, the film is not nearly as strong as even the first film as it lacks a lot of the execution needed to pull off its progressive plotting. Forewarning, this review is going to be a bit spoiler-ish to the events of the first film. Keep that in mind as you continue.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Children of the Night (2015)

Director: Ivan Noel
Notable Cast: Sabrina Ramos, Ana Maria Giunta, Lauro Veron, Toto Munoz 
AKA: Limbo

Vampire films are a dime a dozen. They have always been a consistent force in the horror genre, but in the last decade or so they have been the subject of a lot of different genres from teeny romances with Twilight to comedies like What We Do in the Shadows. Children of the Night, a low budget Argentinian film getting a US release through Artsploitation films this year, is a whole lot of genres blended into one film. The low budget hinders a lot of how the experience of this film works, but Children of the Night is a remarkably quirky and refreshing spin on the classic vampire genre. One that will certainly find its cult audience.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter
Notable Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Kyes, PJ Soles, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Sandy Johnson

The hardest aspect of going back to review a classic such as Halloween is that most things and elements have been explored in writings previously. Most people have seen it and if they haven’t, they’ve heard of it. It makes writing a review at this point something of a difficult task and one that more or less seems like beating a dead horse. However, this Halloween I have dedicated myself to reviewing this entire franchise and that means starting where it all started…with the 1978 slasher classic Halloween. While the film is not perfect (is it blasphemous to say that?) it is however a film steeped in strong and very simplistic aspects that raise it above the low budget slasher it is. This is why Halloween is iconic.

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Notable Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

The idea behind a really great trailer is to build hype and often times a great trailer can make even the worst films seem incredible. This is why I went into Goodnight Mommy with a bit of reservation. The trailer was phenomenal. Almost too good. Good enough where I felt it might be covering up something. In a way, it was. However, it wasn’t covering up a bad film. Goodnight Mommy is actually quite the effective little horror film that could. What the great trailer was covering up was that Goodnight Mommy wasn’t nearly as scary as it was utterly unnerving as a horror film.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Eaten Alive (1976)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Notable Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Stuart Whitman, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards, Robert Englund, Crystin Sinclaire, Janus Blyth

As a fan of early Tobe Hooper material, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I had never taken the dive into his killer bayou flick Eaten Alive. The film has a diehard cult following and it seemed interesting enough from the clips I had seen, but I never really got around to actually watching the film. With Arrow Video’s latest (and dare I say greatest) home release of the film though, it was high time to partake in the flick. Eaten Alive might not be as groundbreaking as Hooper’s tour de force The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it might not be as outrageously psychedelic and hilarious as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the film sits nicely as a strange combination of the two with its fairly off kilter narrative and interesting knack for the oddball style. It’s easy to see why this is a cult favorite with these elements and it gave me a left hook that I was not expecting.

Ugly (2013)

Director: Anurag Kashyap
Notable Cast: Rahul Bhat, Ronit Roy, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Vineet Kumar Singh, Surveen Chawla, Siddhant Kapoor, Sandesh Jadhav, Anshikaa Shrivastava

My first Anurag Kashyap film...

My first Indian film...

What a great entry point too. Before we kick this thing off, I want to get out of the way that I have tried to delve into the Bollywood world before, in fact, many a time, but I've always quickly packed up and went elsewhere. I've only still slightly kept interest in Indian cinema by way of two directors in specific, Anurag Kashyap, and one of the greatest, Satyajit Ray. Of course, my preference in regions of filmmaking do not form any preconceived bias. I didn't go in expecting to dislike Ugly, and I walked away pleased, disturbed, but pleased nonetheless.

This film, like other great films, will be one I won't to shed too much light on towards the plot nor piece specific details. That being said, here's a one line plot description: Guy's daughter is abducted, thus causing everyone to go crazy in the search for her. That's essentially it, but of course, there is much more to it than that.

The leading actor and the man who plays his best friend, were both phenomenal, as were most of the side cast, all the way down to the bit roles. The characters all start off pretty neutral and slowly peel away more and more revealing layers of their true selves. The antagonist of the film, a cop who is dating the abducted daughter's mother, has a goofy, yet cold-blooded right-hand man who ended up being my favorite character in this bleak tale. He brought some odd but welcoming touches of dark humor to the plate.

My biggest compliment and biggest nitpick of it all, is the execution. It's wonderfully shot and edited, save a few beats here and there that tripped up the flow, but some of the Foley work sounded like generic stock sound effects, which took me out of a film that kept me immersed quite regularly. Also, some of the reactions the actors displayed (mainly awkward pauses) made an eyebrow raise here and there, but again, minute nagging towards an overall great mystery / thriller.

Seeing Ugly, and finding much to appreciate from it, has me wanting to explore other works by the director, and dig even deeper for great Indian cinematic gems. For those looking for a great mystery filled film, that keeps the twists coming and the dramatic weight heavy, but not overbearing, look no further. This is one depressing journey I'm sure to revisit when the weather is right.

Written By Josh Parmer

Timber, The (2015)

Director: Anthony O'Brien
Notable Cast: Josh Peck, James Ransone, Elisa Lawoski, Mark Craven, David Bailie
There are two kinds of modern westerns. There are the artsy and atmospheric ones like Red Hill and then there are straight to home video entertainers like Dead in Tombstone. I loved both of the above mentioned films for various reasons, but that seems to be ends of the spectrum for modern westerns. The Timber is one of those films that tries to pull off a little of both and lands right in the middle of that spectrum – perhaps leaning towards the artsy and atmospheric side a bit. While the film certainly has its faults, it also happens to be a pleasantly surprising and very quick watch. A watch that has its charms despite some major issues along the way.

It’s the late 1800s in Alaska and two brothers (Peck, Ransone) are setting off to settle a score and collect a bounty. The bounty just so happens to be their father, but they are desperate for the money to save their home from foreclosure by a ruthless banker. So they set on their task ill equipped but determined to accomplish the feat…no matter what dangers lie ahead or what dangers they leave behind for their family.

That's all we need: horses and guns.
The core of The Timber is simplistic and layered with a ton of intriguing themes, moments, and characters. Multiple times during the film, it had me hooked with its somewhat simplistically majestic weight. The two brothers, the tough one hardened by the world played by Ransone and the softer, family man unprepared for what the journey may ask of him that’s portrayed ably by Peck, are an intriguing pair and when they are shown in the element they spark a fun chemistry. Unfortunately due to the film’s remarkably short run time of 80 minutes, they are not given a lot of time to really build their characters and interactions as much as one would hope. This is a problem with a lot of the various plots and characters. A secondary plot, one that has the young wife and mother of the younger brother fending off the bank’s hooligans with the help of his mother and a kindly sheriff, is horribly under written and not given nearly enough time to develop the fear and tension of their situation. Even most of the various characters that cross paths with the brothers on their trek feel as though they just need a bit more time on screen to develop their motives and how it affects the leads. There is a lot of layers to pick apart, but The Timber could have been a film studied in film school with about 40 minutes added to thicken the plot and characters.

The true shining gem of The Timber is the landscape and how it’s utilized though. The brothers are placed in the horrible wintry hell of the wilderness of Alaska in the film and director O’Brien has a winning knack of being able to capture the massive and claustrophobic landscape in all of its harsh glory. Just seeing these men have to walk through waist deep snow or navigate rocky mountain sides made me tired. The cinematography is Hollywood quality in the film and it really shines as one of the layers to the narrative that works better than it should have. The suffocating snowscapes are their own character and it’s stunningly well realized.

It does have to be mentioned that occasionally The Timber will lean from the atmospheric and low key artistic narrative into some genre territory. In particular, there is a sequence where the elder brother must use the help of a tongue-less mountain man to find his brother who has been abducted by a cannibal living in a cave. Truthfully, O’Brien and company shoot this sequence with the utmost respect and don’t necessarily cater to its exploitative nature, but it’s kind of an odd scene when the rest of the film is generally written and shot in a very realistic tone. This happens a handful of times and it does toy a bit with the expectations of the viewer. It’s fun, truthfully, but not necessarily the most cohesive pieces in the film.

The snow. It covers EVERTHING!
The Timber is a film that has all of the foundations to be one of the best modern westerns released in the last ten years. Unfortunately, it tends to miss out on really selling its characters, their situations, and the plot progressions by being too subtle and too short in its narrative. It’s still quite enjoyable in many ways with some fun performances, stunning cinematography, and a bitter tone to the film that cuts through the viewer like a knife. In the end though, it just doesn’t grab some of the great things about the film and run with them leaving moments to wander about the woods…looking for their own way home.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

 If you would like a copy of The Timber, it drops on home video from our friends at Well Go USA on October 6th. Ordering links are provided below if you desire to be snowbound.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Toolbox Murders 2 (2013/15)


Aka "TBK: Toolbox Murders 2", "Coffin Baby", "TBK: The Toolbox Murders"

Tobe Hooper’s 2003 re-imaging of the 1973 grindhouse classic “The Toolbox Murders” was a minor underground success that momentarily put Hooper back on track as a horror director to keep an eye out for (though he would later derail his career again as expected). Though I enjoyed it, “Toolbox Murders” was a flawed slasher flick that despite its rushed, open ending really didn’t beckon for, or deserve, a sequel. It served its purpose as an enjoyable hour and half for slasher fans but this genre is littered with sequels and we all knew one was not far behind. What we didn’t know was the production hell and behind-the-camera drama that would ensue that would delay the official release of this follow-up for more than a decade. Now after a few title changes and the director and producers putting their differences aside, Shout! Factory unleashes this cursed sequel to the masses and it comes to no surprise it was not worth the wait.
The killer from the original (now credited as TBK in the credits instead of Coffin Baby) survives his fall, decides to kidnap the sister of the survivor of the original (how the hell did he know where she lived?), takes her back to his lair and tortures her for a majority of the films running time with annoying “time passing” title cards that popup every five minutes.
Fans will notice right away that barely any cast or crew names from Hooper’s version return. Director Dean Jones was the special make-up effects artist on the previous film and the man behind the make-up returns as our grisly faced killer. Other than that everything else is different, even the damn tone of the film. For the past 10 years there has been an emergence of films that focus on pain, gore and torture that began with a little film called “Saw”. Don’t get me wrong as I do like many of the films in this relatively new horror film movement but it has produced many third rate knock-offs which is what “Toolbox Murders 2” essentially is. This is the result if mockbuster production company The Asylum decided to make their own “Saw” film – it’s that bad.
With any of these torture films, the film is only strong as your players and if the actors can’t realistically portray their pain and agony then the film will fail, which “Toolbox Murders 2” ultimately does as our lead actress Chauntal Lewis can’t convincingly convey her emotional and physical abuse. Here character is also all over the map, from strong willed to a whimpering willow. We are even graced with legendary actor Bruce Dern giving a cameo but he is thoroughly wasted in his supernatural twist of a subplot.
What we also have here is another “franchise” where the filmmakers fall in love with their villain. Unlike Freddy, Jason, hell even Jigsaw of the “Saw” franchise, Coffin Baby (err.. I mean TBK) just isn’t interesting enough to carry a film. The first film tried to create an aura of mystery around him with some occult surrounds in the building he terrorized but all that is thrown out the window for blood, pain and torture and all the supernatural elements feel shoehorned in. With no plot, an uninteresting villain, ham-fisted acting and directing that barely ekes above amateurish we are left with a hollow, uninteresting waste of a film. Quite frankly I was bored throughout.
Far more interesting than the film is the troubled backstory. It seems soon after completion the director went and shot additional footage, cutting all ties to Hooper’s film and released it under the title Coffin Baby (Image Entertainment even released it on DVD in 2013 under this title but good luck finding it now). Legal battles ensued until the director and producers put their differences aside and the new footage was scrapped and the version Shout! Factory released on DVD and Blu-ray is the original vision as devised in the script. I have not seen the “Coffin Baby” cut of the film but if this is considered the “definitive cut” it’s hard to believe how unbelievably bad that version has to be but fans on facebook do ensure me that cut is better... perhaps I will find out for myself one day.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Green Inferno, The (2015)

Director: Eli Roth
Notable Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns, Kirby Bliss Banton, Magda Apanowicz, Ignacia Allamand, Daryl Sabara, Sky Ferreira
Love him or hate him (or both), but Eli Roth has a knack for causing controversy. His Hostel films certainly garnered their fair share of both love and hate from fans and critics, but that didn’t stop them from being talked about. A key factor that kept them (and still keeps them) as conversation topics long after their actual impact has faded. This is also going to be the legacy of his latest horror film, the cannibal survival flick The Green Inferno, as the film has earned its fair share of controversy and clever marketing schemes to keep it relevant. After an extensive delay in release, the film finally hit theaters and the results are much different than expected – for both better and worse.

Justine (Izzo) is a college freshmen looking to leave an impact on the world around her. She becomes captivated with a local activist Alejandro (Levy) and joins his cause for fighting off some evil land developers in the Amazon and ends up with a select group actually heading down to stream a protest live online. While things are not always what they seem, a terrible turn of events finds the activists within the hands of one of the tribes they were trying to protect…and next in line to be their dinner.

Gore party!
Prior to its release, the marketing team was really pushing how disturbing and violent The Green Inferno is. People faint at showings, clips and trailers are banned from social media, etc. Partnered with Eli Roth’s own claim that The Green Inferno was meant to be a throwback film to the cannibal exploitation films of the 70s, it’s hard not to get one’s expectations up. However, for horror fans even remotely versed in the likes of the genre with classics like Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and their ilk, then you will probably come out disappointed. The Green Inferno is not nearly as controversial, disturbing, or gross as most of those films. For a modern mainstream audience the film is certain to get some reactions, but for those looking for a true throwback film then The Green Inferno is not it. It is most certainly an inspired love letter to the genre, but it’s done with a very obvious Roth spin on the material and it’s not going to be what some are expecting.

With that being said, I will fully admit that I had a fucking blast watching The Green Inferno. Eli Roth injects a remarkable amount of humor into the film which had me laughing through a majority of the run time (it also helps that he has a strange knack for making disturbing sequences so over the top that it’s hard not to laugh) and the film really piles on some of the ridiculous gore pieces in the latter half. For those looking for plenty of gore, the film certainly has it. Thanks to some top notch effects, a lot of the horror and disturbing elements are provided in full gory glory. To its benefit, The Green Inferno keeps a lot of the kills more diverse than just ‘being eaten’ so that allows things to be more interesting – even if some of them are obviously set up by elements in the first half and oddly forced into the plot. A death by killer ants, for example, doesn’t work nearly as well as one would hope in a film like this.

One of the bigger issues that arises in The Green Inferno though is it’s often over the top writing. The characters of the film, outside of our leading lady Lorenza Izzo, are painted in rather broad stroke ways and many of them seem to be more akin to caricatures than characters – a move that tends to undermine the potential horror later on. If anything, the way the characters are portrayed really only works once for a truly horrifying death sequence, the first one of their entrapment, which is an elongated one that had the audience cringing. The villainous head of the activist group, as an example, is such an asshole that at times it comes off as comical. The dialogue doesn’t tend to be any better. At this point though, this style of detail-less characters and extreme circumstances seems to be Eli Roth’s elements of writing. If it was anything else, then I would have been surprised. It doesn’t make for a great film, but it definitely makes for an entertaining one in the end.

I love how you decorated your home.
If you’re expecting The Green Inferno to be a pure throwback, then you probably won’t love the film. If you are skeptical of Eli Roth’s style of dark humor and intense gore, then it won’t change your mind. If you go into the film knowing that it is very much an Eli Roth film and one that piles on some strange moments with tons of gore then it’s hard not to be utterly entertained by its outrageousness. It’s hardly as great as some of the marketing made it out to be, but it’s still a blast to watch with the proper expectations. It still comes with a big bloody recommendation.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, September 25, 2015

Better Tomorrow, A (1986)

Director: John Woo
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Emily Chu, Kenneth Tsang, Tien Feng, cameos by John Woo and Tsui Hark.

Looking back, ­­A Better Tomorrow was one of the key films that drove a young teenage version of myself towards cult cinema. It had some major impacts in my life, both as a driver of the kind of films I would come to prefer and as a staple of comparison for films to come. To this day, it still has a profound effect on me. I tear up in the final act. I buy potted plants and scatter them throughout my house in case I have to hide something in them. I even slam my leg on the table at bars, toast it, and pour my drink all over my pant leg. Sure, that last one might not be true, but I think about often when I am out socially. It does not deter from the fact that A Better Tomorrow was a game changer. Not only for my fifteen year old self, but as a film too. It took John Woo and Tsui Hark’s careers to the next level and it rocketed Chow Yun Fat onto a path of international stardom. It essentially made the term ‘heroic bloodshed’ its own genre. While some of the style might come off as cliché or even cheesy to audiences now, the film works perfectly and remains a forerunner to what modern action cinema is today.

Ho (Ti Lung) and his partner Mark (Chow Yun Fat) have been one of the leaders in running a black market scheme out of Hong Kong for quite some time. They are training a new recruit Shing (Waise Lee) when a deal in Taiwan goes horribly awry. This leaves Ho in prison for five years and when he gets out, he wants to take his life straight. His police officer brother (Leslie Cheung) doesn’t believe him, his partner Mark doesn’t understand, and a new crime boss seems to want him dead. There is still a lot of work to do to rectify his wrongs.

A Better Tomorrow is the kind of action film where the action, no matter how good, takes a back seat to the character work on display here. While Chow Yun Fat gets a lot of credit for this movie, more on that in a minute, and there is essentially three lead roles, the heart and soul of this movie rests with Ti Lung’s Ho. Shaking off some of the more stand up heroics of his time with the Shaw Brothers studio, he plays the perfect weathered and well-intentioned gangster here and it’s his emotional journey that lifts this film up. He is surrounded by some serious talent in the secondary cast and it’s easy to see why Chow Yun Fat comes off as the face of this film when he steals so many sequences. His hot headed and often desperate cool portrayal is the perfect balance to Ti Lung and Chow Yun Fat destroys what could have been a throw away “best friend” role. The chemistry on screen between the three leads is impeccable and it truly is the biggest reason to see A Better Tomorrow.

With that being said, the rest of the film is also top notch quality. John Woo takes his now patented “gun fu” style to dramatic heights here with some massive melodramatic scores and an ability to capture movement and depth like few of his Hong Kong action peers. As an action film, A Better Tomorrow is potent. It never shies away from the violence, a sequence where Chow Yun Fat pulls a one man assassination on a dinner party almost entirely in slow motion stands out, and it uses its character work and dramatic tension as a build to explosive bursts - bursts of gun fire, explosions, and horrific hand to hand fights that punctuate turning points in the plot. The style might be called ‘heroic bloodshed,’ but rarely does any of the action pieces feel heroic as much as a needed break from the building atmosphere. John Woo shoots them in such a way that they feel artful and dance like (earning his movies the loving term ‘bullet ballets’) and it’s this ability to balance the plot and character progressions in action sequences that makes A Better Tomorrow the game changer it remains.

Say what you want about the intense bro-mance you will experience in A Better Tomorrow or its almost overpowering emotional beats that shine brighter than the already magnificent action set pieces, but this film is a classic – pure and simple. It set up the international careers for almost all of its principal cast and crew (outside of Ti Lung, who had already had a decade of being a Hong Kong A-lister at this point) and it set the ground work principals for what modern action films should be to this day. A Better Tomorrow might not be what many people expect when it comes to classic action, but it’s so much more.

Written By Matt Reifschneider