Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gallows, The (2015)

Directors: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Notable Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Price T. Morgan

At some point a trend has to seemingly slow down, right? I mean, you can only rehash the same technique, style, and approach so many times before expansion or evolution should naturally occur. However, the found footage style of horror films seems to be a resilient trend that refuses to evolve. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not it was all that effective to begin with, but it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Perhaps it’s just an easy and cheap way to make a buck with horror, but something needs to happen. The Gallows, the latest effort from horror producer super hero Jason Blum, is a big sign post about why. Instead of running with its fairly interesting concept, the film instead regurgitates the same formula, style, and ineffective execution that has plagued the found footage genre for years now. It’s dumb, irritating, and worst of all – it’s boring.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Yukiyo Toake, Takashi Shimura, Eiji Okada, Kei Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Rie Yokoyama, Tatsuo Endo

It’s with some sense of regret that I finish off the original Zatoichi series for review here on the site. It’s somewhat fitting, in a roundabout way, that there is a sense of finality to the series as Zatoichi’s Conspiracy, the twenty-fifth film in this run but hardly the last time Shintaro Katsu would play the blind swordsman, also features a rather somber tone. The film is hardly anything new for the episodic series and often succumbs to the formulaic approach, but it’s still a decent film and one that earns some credits in execution. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve spent so much time with the character that I’m sad about finishing off this box set from Criterion, but there is also a sadness to the way that this film plays out that also makes it feel a bit unique.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Exeter (2015)

Director: Marcus Nispel
Notable Cast: Kelly Blatz, Brittany Curran, Brett Dier, Gage Golightly, Nick Nicotera, Nick Nordella, Michael Ormsby, Kevin Chapman, Stephen Lang

The meteoric rise of director Marcus Nispel is something that probably angers horror fans to no end. A music video director initially, his first big film was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – a film that itself earns quite a bit of love and hate. From there he has mostly worked on various big budget remakes to varied degrees of success (I have a soft spot for the dumb fun of his Conan the Barbarian remake myself), but his latest feature seemingly dropped out of the social conscious. An original film that Nispel actually was a writer on, Exeter also known as Backmask, is perhaps his weakest piece of film to date. The film is a whirlwind of clichés hinged on terrible writing and too often it tries to replace any legitimate horror elements with style. In essence, it’s everything that fans bitch about with Nispel just ten times over.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

“Blind man…do you want to see the color of your blood?”

Director: Shintaro Katsu
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Kiwako Taichi, Katsuo Nakamura, Asao Koike, Kyoko Yoshizawa, Yasuhiro Koume, Joji Takagi, Masumi Harukawa

For the 25th film in the long running blind swordsman franchise, Zatoichi in Desperation is one that really strips the series to its core – emotionally and in style. Shintaro Katsu directs the film and his innate knowledge of the character is matched stroke for stroke by the films often dark, violent, and heart ripping beats of narrative structure. It’s not a film with an extensive plot, nor does it need it, but it’s one that returns to the anti-hero aspects of the first films and then layers in a significant amount of artful grindhouse elements – making it one of the biggest surprises this franchise has to offer.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Christmas Horror Story, A (2015)

Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Notable Cast: William Shatner, George Buza, Percy Hynes White, Olunike Adeliyi, Rob Archer, Jeff Clarke, Jessica Clement, Zoe de Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Adrian Holmes, Shannon Kook, Debra McCabe, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ozerov, Alan C. Peterson, Corinne Conley

The horror anthology film is not something that is all that new and the style has gone through spurts of popularity throughout the years. Since the (long awaited) release of Trick R Treat in 2009 though the style has seen an upswing of popularity. The ABCs of Death franchise, the V/H/S franchise, and just this year we had Tales of Halloween for the season of spooks to keep it moving. However, the latest horror anthology to feature a holiday theme, entitled A Christmas Horror Story, might be one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Similar to Trick R Treat in its attempts at using the tone of a holiday as a launching pad for its four interweaving tales of Christmas terror, A Christmas Horror Story ably navigates a solid variety of different horror genres in its quick hour and a half run time and it effectively comes off as a fun and entertaining film that works on almost all levels.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Zatoichi at Large (1972)

Director: Kazuo Mori
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Rentaro Mikuni, Hisaya Morishige, Etushi Takahashi, Naoko Otani, Osamu Sakai, Renji Ishibashi

After a roller coaster series of entries in the last handful of films, the Zatoichi franchise needed a film to go back to its roots. A film that returned to the formula that established what fans loved about them to begin with. This is what Zatoichi at Large represents. A cleansing of the franchise from its oddities and a return to form. This is both a blessing and a curse for the film. The previous few entries shied away from this approach as it was becoming redundant and that redundancy shows its cracks in the foundational writing for this 23rd film in the blind swordsman series. However, Zatoichi at Large is largely saved by a director that knows dynamics in the visuals and a ferocious third act.So it's a mixed watch for fans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

Director: Ulli Lommel

Notable Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Wolfgang Schenck, Brigitte Mira, Rainer Hauer, Barbara Bertram, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Occasionally and if you’re lucky, there will be a handful of films that stick with you long after the film is done. In the case of Tenderness of the Wolves, a dramatic character film that’s earned its cult following since its release in 1973, the film is one of those kinds. For me, Tenderness was rather boring during the actual watch, but hours and even days after it was done the film stuck to me mentally, seeping in with its subtle atmospheric touches and artful nuance of characters. Enough so that I ended up watching the film a second time before writing this review. It’s that second viewing that really hooked me with why this film is deserving of the praise it receives from its fan base and why it deserves such a wonderful new release from Arrow Video.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes
Notable Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

The James Bond franchise will always see its ups and downs throughout each incarnation and each decade. Outside of the unmemorable and often un-Bond like film Quantum of Solace, the Craig era of Bond has been rather vibrant and pushes the series into new territory. In particular, the blend of classic Bond moments and a shockingly fresh and effective third act in Skyfall made it one of the best entries to date and it assured a new audience for the long time British spy with Oscar nominations (and win) and an artfulness that the series hadn’t seen in a long, long time. So it might come as a huge disappointment that Spectre, the second film to feature Sam Mendes as director, takes a remarkably throwback approach to its narrative and tone. No silhouette fights. No subdued finales. This is Bond 101 back on the screen warts and all. Like the rest of my James Bond reviews for the site, I’m going to break it down by “Bond Elements” for fans and newbies alike. Just know going into Spectre that it is handedly the most tongue-in-cheek and often silly Bond film of the Craig era…for better or worse.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Assassin, The (2015)

Director: Hou Hsaio-Hsien
Notable Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Fang-Yi Sheu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Ethan Juan, Hsieh Hsin-Ying, Ni Dahong, Yong Mei

The hype machine was in full force for The Assassin. It’s Tawain’s choice for consideration in the upcoming Academy Awards, it's directed by the renowned Hou Hsaio-Hsien, and it has already taken the award for best director at a little festival called Cannes. However, by the time the credits rolled on the film, I was a torn audience member. On one side, The Assassin accomplishes what it set out to do with gorgeous visuals and an atmospheric spin on a classic martial arts film foundation. On the other hand, it’s boring as hell and just as vague when it comes to actually telling a story. The arthouse cinema fan in me appreciated what the film accomplishes, but the kung fu fan in me was sorely disappointed.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Director: Sammo Hung
Notable Cast: Sammo Hung, Chung Fat, Lam Ching-ying, Chan Lung, Huang Ha, Dick Wei, Yuen Biao, Wu Ma

As a director, Sammo Hung has touched on a lot of material. He’s done comedy, traditional martial arts, drama, and even an action war flick. Yet, one of his strangest (and still most fascinating) films comes in the form of the kung fu horror comedy Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Since October is always dedicated to reviewing and watching horror films at Blood Brothers, it only seemed relevant that I throw in at least one kung fu horror flick for the season even if it's November by the time it gets posted. Encounters of the Spooky Kind, also known as Spooky Encounters or Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind, is a blast to watch. It’s not always the most sensible of films as it tends to throw a lot at the audience, but the resulting mix of comedy, kick assery, and supernatural elements is massively entertaining to watch.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Notable Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Sid Haig

Sometimes (more often than not) the best way to experience a film, especially when you have a good, gut feeling about it, is to go in with little to no knowledge of the film whatsoever. If you see or read about something that makes you say "I think I really wanna see this", then look no further, and seek it out, unless you are the type who can't really do that or don't want to, then buy all means, spoil the ride. That said, this is exactly the way I've experienced the biggest cinematic surprise of 2015 for me, Bone Tomahawk.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Director: Joe Chapelle
Notable Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Devin Gardner, J.C. Brandy, Mitchell Ryan 
AKA: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween 6, and Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers (teaser trailer)

As my Halloween marathon continues this year, it’s come to my attention that my reviews of the various sequels to this franchise do not always align with the viewpoints of its dedicated fan base. The various dozens of messages, emails, and comments about my reviews of the Halloween films have certainly solidified the fact that this franchise has some die-hard fans that are willing to fight and die for the various entries. Unfortunately, when it comes to the sixth entry of the series, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, I don’t know if there is any kind of dedicated fan base that can justify just how odd this film is. The resulting film has been edited into two very different cuts of the film, both of which will be talked about here and neither of which are very good thanks to a horrible production.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Golden Cane Warrior, The (2015)

Director: Ifa Isfansya 
Notable Cast: Christine Hakim, Eva Celia Latjuba, Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Tara Basro

With the international success of Gareth Evans’ The Raid and its subsequent sequel, it would only seem fitting that there would be a bit of a boom in the Indonesian film market – if not just in the Indonesian martial arts film market. A film like The Golden Cane Warrior would normally go overlooked in the grand spectrum of international film releasing (particularly here in the US), but with this new global eye on the area it’s not all that surprising that The Golden Cane Warrior would get a slightly larger than normal release. Fortunately, the wuxia inspired film is fairly deserving of this kind of attention as a very ambitious martial arts drama. Blending the likes of classic Shaw Brothers wuxia with a melodramatic and artistic touch akin to Zhang Yimou films, The Golden Cane Warrior is a fun and modern slice of traditional martial arts film history rolled into one... and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino, Angela La Vorgna, Enrica Conaccorti, Daniela Giordano, Ermelinda De Felice

*Part of a duel pack called Black Cats available from Arrow Video*

Giallo is far from my favorite genre overall and it’s usually one that I rarely review here at Blood Brothers, but when Arrow Video’s latest release of Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (which will be known as Your Vice from this point on for the sake of hand fatigue) landed on my doorstep it was hard not to get a bit excited. Your Vice contains some of the work of many of the iconic names of giallo cinema to it and yet, I had only heard of mixed things about the loose adaption of Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cat story. In the end, Your Vice is the mixed bag that many fans claimed it to be, but it’s hardly the film that some called disappointing. Particularly when the third act comes out so strongly that it delivers a purpose to the rather plodding first two-thirds that viewers may not see coming.

Black Cat, The (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Notable Cast: Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver, Dagmar Lassander, Bruno Corazzari, Geoffrey Copleston, Daniela Doria

*Part of a duel pack called Black Cats available from Arrow Video*

By 1981, Lucio Fulci was riding high on a streak of hits like Zombi and City of the Living Dead– Italian films full of gore, horrors, and his iconic stylish visuals. In the middle of what many might call his golden era of filmmaking, Fulci did end up making The Black Cat, a film inspired by the story of Edgar Allen Poe and one that would go on to be something of an overlooked gem of atmosphere and odd narrative for many fans. Truthfully The Black Cat is hardly as good as Zombi or The Beyond that would come right afterwards, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without some awesome material that is finally getting the proper release that Fulci fans have been asking for from Arrow Video.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bloody Knuckles (2015)

Director: Matt O.
Notable Cast: Adam Boys, Gabrielle Giraud, Kasey Ryne Mazak, Ken Tsui, Dwayne Bryshun

While it might seem unusual to the average person, I was pretty excited to watch Bloody Knuckles. The concept of a severed hand taking revenge for its lost body, mixed with offensive elements and plenty of gore, sparked an interest in me. Perhaps it’s my odd love for the massively overlooked horror comedy Idle Hands or the odd blend of horror, comedy, offensiveness, and revenge flick that Bloody Knuckles promised, but I was pretty stoked to be throwing in the Blu Ray when it arrived on my doorstep. It just might be these expectations of cult horror comedy gold that left me a bit underwhelmed overall by the film. It certainly has its moments and for the casual horror fan it might find some of it as offensive, but Bloody Knuckles didn’t quite execute the outrageous promises that it seemed to have potential for. Fun, sure, but not nearly as effective with the mix as one would hope.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Notable Cast: Danielle Harris, Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Wendy Kaplan, Tamara Glynn, Jeffrey Landman, Jonathan Chapin, Matthew Walker

After the producers successfully resurrected Michael Myers for his return in Halloween 4, a film that still has an odd cult following today, it didn’t take them long to scramble up another sequel to capitalize on the re-surging success of the series…and the speedy turnaround shows with Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. There still seems to be somewhat of a cult audience that follows this entry, which seems to be beyond my understanding, because outside of a few moments it’s hard to recommend this entry to anyone but the slasher addicted horror fan. Especially when the film takes some random turns that really don’t benefit the whole and baffles the audience.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Northern Limit Line (2015)

Director: Kim Hak-soon

Notable Cast: Kim Mu-yeol, Jin Goo, Lee Hyun-woo, Lee Wan, Kim Ji-hoon, Jang Joon-hak, JooHee-joong, Lee Min-ho

Many of the early reviews for Northern Limit Line spouted off rhetoric about the film being too propaganda-ish with its patriotic South Korean themes. Truthfully though, the film is not even nearly as bad as 80% of the war films that get made in the United States. In fact, Northern Limit Line is quite the serviceable military drama…to a fault. Often enough, it actually plays things relatively safe as it caters to its mainstream audience instead of really digging into its material. Still, this Korean piece of dramatic action has enough heart and enough action to keep the audience hooked throughout its two hour run time even if the film quickly dissolves from memory after the credits roll.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Director: Dwight B. Little
Notable Cast: Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Donald Pleasance, Tom Tucker, Beau Starr

After Halloween III pissed everyone off with its lack of Michael Myers, it seemed like an easy fix to bring Michael Myers back for the fourth one and call it Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers just so all of the fans would know that he was coming back. So the producers and director slapped together a story about Michael Myers escaping while being transported to another psychiatric hospital and heading back to Haddonfield to kill his niece…since Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t sign back on. The results are a rather uninspired slasher flick that hits a lot of the tropes, despite the best efforts from a visual standpoint and an intriguing spin on the concept. While Halloween 4 remains a fun movie in its silliness, it’s truthfully not very good and not very memorable.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Notable Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Currie

Of all of the Halloween sequels in all of the land, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has the strangest and most devout cult following of them all. The film itself was fairly controversial, if not for just the fact that it is a Michael Myers-less entry, and it has created a massive divide of people that fall into the ‘love’ or the ‘hate’ columns. The people who love it will defend it with all of their logistical might and those who hate it will simply refuse to acknowledge its existence as a film... let alone part of an iconic slasher franchise. For this reviewer, Halloween III remains a fun 80s flick, working in some nice silly concepts and some oddly serious performances, but it’s not nearly the classic that some say it is. In the end, it falls right in the middle of the two extreme opinions of the film.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Raid, The (1991)

Directors: Tsui Hark, Ching Siu-Tung
Notable Cast: Dean Shek, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Kai Fai, Corey Yuen, Goyce Godenzi, Paul Chun, Lau Chi Ming, Fennie Yuen

Tsui Hark’s career as a director has been a scattered one. His focus on style over substance can leave a lot of memorable moments, but when it comes to films that last the test of time…he’s not the most effective of directors. However, his latest film The Taking of Tiger Mountain was something of a throwback to the days when he had an understanding between the balance of spectacle and narrative. I bring up this film because its distributor Well Go USA is releasing one of his “classic” films from 1991 called The Raid…and the comparisons between the two films are striking. The Raid is a historically set action adventure flick with enough humor, heart, and outrageous elements to entertain most any Hong Kong cinema fan. It’s hardly a perfect film in trying to balance all of these elements, but The Raid is a strong reminder of a time when Tsui Hark could still entertain without irritating.

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