Disclaimer: My reviews of media here do not mean that I lay any claim to the media in question. All reviews are entirely subjective. I may talk about how well the movie objectively works in my opinion, but it essentially all comes down to what I think of the movie. My liking a movie is not the same as thinking it's a great movie. If I trash a movie that you love, or love a movie you can’t stand, it’s not because I hate you. Also, all reviews are likely to contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movies in question and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t be reading about them here. Finally, a blanket trigger warning for people who don't want to read about common horror movie content such as sexism, racism, violence, etc.: I will likely discuss all of the above when they show up in the films I review, so please tread with caution. Check out this post for more on how my reviews are set up.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Horror Movie Reviews: House of Fears (2007)

Overall: C
Acting: C
Writing: C
Story: C
Technical aspects: C
Effects: C+

Directed by:
Ryan Little

Corri English
Sandra McCoy
Michael J. Pagan
Corey Sevier
Alice Greczyn
Eliot Benjamin

The best way to describe this movie is probably just “average.” It’s a pretty basic curses-killing-teens-type movie. We start off in Africa, where a woman is apparently intending to make a purchase from an archaeological dig. They arrive, her guide discovers that everyone has been killed, she grabs the Mysterious Evil Statue they unearthed, and in the interest of getting out, the guide says she can keep it.
Then back in America, we see a security guard doing a patrol of “The House of Fears”, a haunted house attraction. His dog companion freaks out about something, and they go to investigate. Of course, it’s the Mysterious Evil Statue, which proceeds to cause the dog to attack him.
Meanwhile, six high school kids are at a party dealing with some stock teenage drama. Hailey (Sandra McCoy) is angry that her father has remarried and hates her new stepsister Samantha (Corri English,) and is interested in Carter (Corey Sevier) who only has an on-and-off relationship with her, and… oh man, it is so hard to care much about any of these people and their stock teenage drama… But okay, Carter’s friend Zane (Eliot Benjamin) is into a girl named Candice (Alice Greczyn) and intends to invite her to the haunted house where he works. But she only wants to go with her boyfriend Devon (Michael J. Pagan.) (Can’t keep all the characters straight? That’s okay, most of the audience can’t either!)
Well, the six of them sneak into “House of Fears” where Zane works, and start their way through the “nine fears” that the house is supposedly built around – things like ghosts, death, spiders, the dark, etc. I’ll admit that the house itself looks pretty cool – it’s a haunted house I’d probably enjoy going through in real life.
But of course, because it’s a horror movie, the Mysterious Evil Statue exerts its power to literally bring individual’s worst fears to life, and starts killing off the teens one by one, as they’re forced to go progressively deeper into the house in hopes of escape.

It’s really hard to say anything about the movie except that it is just so painfully average. It isn’t bad, but it’s not especially good either. The acting is nothing special, but it’s all right. The story itself is basic, and it works to the extent that it has to. It’s a silly premise for sure, but doesn't require much more suspension of disbelief than half the horror films out there. The setting is nice enough, and like I said above, I can see this haunted house being fun to go through. But watching other people go through it? Eh, not as exciting, even if we do get to watch them die.

The effects are pretty good; again not spectacular, but not relying solely on CGI. That’s what pushes the effects category into C+ territory for me - I have pretty low tolerance for bad computer generated effects, but I love seeing more “traditional” effects with props and makeup and the like. 
It’s lacking in the sexuality and gore that a lot of teen scream type movies have, which may be either a deterrent or a draw depending on your position.
I can say that this could be a fun movie to watch around Halloween or with a group of friends, but it certainly isn’t particularly stand-out.

Happy Halloween!

Obviously it's pretty much the best day ever.

Sadly, no real plans. As excited as I was for Halloween, it ended up still sneaking up on me, and leaving me with no time to do any of the things I was hoping to do.

Oh well, we have pumpkins to carve and candy to gorge on, so what more is really required? And maybe some crappy horror to watch, of course!

And I'll post a review, too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horror Movie Reviews: The Descent Part 2 (2009)

Overall: C
Acting: B
Writing: C
Story: C
Technical aspects: B
Effects: B-

Directed by:
Jon Harris

Shauna Macdonald
Gavan O’Herlihy
Natalie Jackson Mendoza
Krysten Cummings

Particular trigger warnings: none I recall
Passes the Bechdel test? Yes.

This movie felt pretty “meh” to me. In all honesty, I was pretty bored through most of it.

            The Descent Part 2 is a sequel to the 2005 film The Descent. HEAVY SPOILERS FOR THE DESCENT FOLLOW: The basic plot of the first film is that six friends (all female) go on a caving trip together in the Appalachian mountains. There’s a cave-in, trapping them in the unexplored cave system where there’s no hope of rescue. Turns out that the cave system is occupied by a humanoid species referred to as “crawlers” who violently kill the girls one by one. Finally, two girls remain, Juno and Sarah. Some drama has happened, with Juno being responsible for one of the other girls’ deaths, plus being the one at fault for tricking them into going to an unexplored cave system, and it’s also been revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s late husband, so Sarah attacks and wounds her and leaves. It’s implied that Juno dies off-camera, with an abruptly silenced scream, and we see Sarah escape. But then her escape is revealed to have been a hallucination, and the movie ends with her sitting oblivious below ground and the crawlers getting closer. I actually liked the first movie pretty well, and it's been on my re-watch list for some time.

            The sequel picks up with it being revealed that actually Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) has somehow made it out, and she stumbles into the road and is picked up by a motorist who takes her to a hospital. Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) has the blood on her clothing tested. Upon finding that some of it belonged to Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) he insists that Sarah take them back through the caves to find the other girls.
            The sheriff puts together a team consisting of himself, his deputy Elen Rios (Krysten Cummings), and three (pretty non-descript) “specialists” – Dan (Douglas Hodge), Greg (Joshua Dallas), and Cath (Anna Skellern). They go through a newly discovered entrance to the cave system through a mineshaft operated by a man named Ed Oswald (Michael J. Reynolds).
            Once down in the caves, Sarah has a flashback and strikes out at the others before fleeing. Sheriff Vaines chases after her, but encounters a crawler, which he fires at, and he causes a cave-in. Cath is separated from the rest. The three still together – Elen, Dan, and Greg – find a video camera from one of the girls in the first movie, and they see that the girls really were attacked by the crawler creatures. Then they themselves are attacked by crawlers, and are separated.
            Sarah and Elen meet up, and witness a crawler killing Dan. Cath and Greg reunite elsewhere and keep going, but are both eventually offed. Vaines is still going deeper into the caves, and he is almost killed before he is rescued by Juno, who somehow has survived, and in the few days since the previous movie has become particularly skilled in killing the crawlers. The four survivors meet up, and while Juno and Sarah start fighting, then they decide that maybe they should save it for later and just try to escape now. Juno says she can lead them to the exit, and Vaines handcuffs himself to Sarah so she can’t abandon them like he claims she did Juno. On their journey, he falls over a cliff, and Elen cuts off his hand letting him fall and die in order to save Sarah.
            Finally, the three remaining women are within reach of the exit, but as they try to sneak past a group of crawlers, Greg is revealed to be barely alive and he grabs Juno. She screams, he dies, the crawlers attack. Juno ends up wounded, and dies in Sarah’s arms. Elen and Sarah are horribly outnumbered, but Sarah sacrifices herself so Elen can escape.
            Elen gets out, but then Ed, the man who was operating the mineshaft elevator, attacks her and drags her back to be food for the crawlers. The movie ends with a crawler leaping at her.

            It’s hard to really pick out what exactly was BAD about this movie, except that I found it boring and it didn’t really hold my interest at all. I had to keep forcing myself to stay awake. The acting is all right, but the story was just dull. The three “specialist” characters felt unnecessary, and like they were only there for padding the length of the movie with their respective death scenes. I don’t have any lasting impression of their characters or any development they got, and can’t really think of anything that made them necessary to the story. I guess it’s better that this is called “part 2” rather than being billed as a real sequel. It seems to be trying to repeat the success of the first film by doing the same things, but that really is just more repetitive than anything else; predictable death scenes spaced out by boring stretches of travel devoid of tension because we’ve already been here and done this.
I also had a hard time getting past how clumsily it fits with the original. Both Juno and Sarah die in the end of the first movie, and it’s never explained how either of them actually escaped and survived. Despite the fact that Sarah was shown to be hallucinating images of her dead daughter, too far into the cave to possibly get out, while she was being surrounded by crawlers, she still managed to escape? Somehow, despite being horribly wounded and constantly hunted by creatures that hunt partially by scenting blood, Juno has survived for days and in that short time has become an expert at hunting and killing the crawlers? And she knows where the exit is, but hasn’t tried to get out herself? This didn’t feel well explained at all. (I realize that there were apparently alternate endings to the first film, and my review is based on the ending that I saw, which was the standard version on the DVD I watched.)
            The cinematography is good, and it feels dark and closed in like being in the caves. The effects weren’t bad, but the creature design of the crawlers was changed from the first movie. The change wasn’t good, in my opinion. The first movie had them looking like creepy, pale, slimy, eyeless things that had evolved underground… exactly what they were supposed to be. For the sequel, according to the designer, “Jon [the director] wanted them more viciously feral, inbred, scarred and deformed, with rows of sharklike teeth for ripping flesh.” The result to me looks… gargoyle-like. Less like a real species that could exist (and is therefore creepy or scary,) and more like a Halloween monster mask (which is not so creepy.) Their faces are wrinkled with broad noses and pointed ears. They have eyes and can clearly see. The wikipedia article on the first movie has a good comparison of the two designs, which I’ll copy-paste here: 

            I would definitely recommend the first film (which wasn’t perfect, but probably would get a B+ from me) more than the second. If you really like the first one, and find yourself desperately wanting more, the second may provide that. But in my opinion it does so clumsily, and doesn’t add anything new to an interesting scenario.

Dear internet...

I'm pretty disappointed in myself, not gonna lie. I was all set to have October be the month that I got my shit together on this blog, and then... well, you can see how well that went. Real life wound up taking almost all of my attention, and everything else kind of fell apart. Trying to get back in gear with it though, so expect a (real) post later today.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Horror Movie Reviews: CrossBones (2005)

Overall: F
Acting: D
Writing: F
Story: F
Technical aspects: D
Effects: F

Directed by:
Daniel Zirilli
Joseph Jones
Maria Santos
Joseph Marino
Jessie Camacho
Mayra Soto
Hardy Hill
J-Shin Kinshu
Merlynne Williams

Particular trigger warnings: rampant racism

This was… not a good movie. And my reaction is in with the summary, so spoilers abound throughout the whole writeup, to a greater extent than usual.

            Basic plot… A producer for reality TV has started a new show on an island where six contestants will compete for $100,000. In addition to the six contestants, there’s one camera guy, the producer, and the producer’s high-maintenance bitchy girlfriend. But naturally the island is CURSED. Because centuries before, the dreaded pirate Redblood was cursed by some (oddly English-speaking) Savage Native Voodoo-types, so he’s still around and going to get his revenge. Or something.
            I get the feeling the movie is intending self-parody, but it just comes off as stupid. The majority of the characters are one-dimensional reality TV stereotypes: the Black gansta rapper “Greedy G”, the bitchy made-of-attitude-and-promiscuity Black girl, the ditzy blonde who probably doesn’t have a coherent thought through the whole film, and the dumbass guy who is only “there for the ladies” and whose every line consists of wanting everyone to be naked, or referring to his penis as “The Monster.” And the two biggest “stars,” the two characters we’re apparently supposed to like and who show shallow attempts at character development, are played by actual reality TV stars! Hardy Hill was in “Big Brother” and “Miami Social,” and Jessie Camacho was on “Survivor.”
            Fabulous racism and sexism abound. Again, I’m sure it’s striving for witty self-parody, but it fails pretty astoundingly. All the women except for one are shallow and materialistic, as well as being portrayed as sluts who sleep around solely to feed the materialism, and every shot of the women is obviously for tits and ass. If you enjoy that, this movie may be for you, but this went beyond even much of the usual fanservicey pandering. The Black woman is nasty to everyone, the Black man is shown as unintelligent and violent, and immediately starts in with how if he was the black woman’s pimp, she’d be missing teeth. The obvious racism is probably meant to be tempered by a line between the “producer” and the cameraman, in which the producer tells him that “angry Black people make good television” and the cameraman protests that “they aren’t really like that.” But the movie definitely doesn’t fall under “clever social commentary” so much as “really fucking stupid and offensive.”
            And Redblood is not anything near a convincing pirate. He looks like he should be stumbling around a Renaissance Faire at best. His rather unplaceable accent comes and goes, his dialogue sounds like a high schooler on talk-like-a-pirate-day, and it’s just poorly acted in general.
            The beginning of the film where we get scenes of Redblood on his piratey ship doing piratey things appears to have been filmed on a boat that they weren’t allowed to take away from the dock. When he makes his daring escape from prison, it’s done on a bright blue rowboat (with an obvious hookup for a motor) on what appears to be a mid-sized lake rather than the ocean blue.
            The deaths are predictable and not especially satisfying, even considering how much I hated all the characters. The gore is unconvincing, so even if that’s all you’re there for, it’ll likely still be disappointing. It’s badly filmed and the sound sometimes gets annoyingly quiet, only to be back to full volume mid-conversation. The acting is awful, with only a slight excuse that it’s supposed to be “reality TV,” the characters are ridiculously horrible, it’s badly written… I wavered between giving this a D- just for the fact that I was entertained by how bad it was, and a full-on F. But I have to go with F.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Biophage (2010)

Overall: B-
Acting: C
Writing: C
Story: B
Technical aspects: B-
Effects: C

Directed by:
Mark Rapp
Aaron Jackson
Ron Marnich

This one is better than a lot of zombie movies I’ve seen lately - it doesn’t fall into a lot of the clich├ęs of the genre, and I had fun watching it - though it has its share of flaws.

It’s a pretty basic viral-style zombie movie, where the world has been taken over by “Biophages.” A team made up of Sgt. Cain (Aaron Jackson) and Dr. Bell (Ron Marnich) are on a mission for a military lab to try and find data on the outbreak from the CDC. We join them on their journey after they’ve found the CDC deserted, and they’re just trying to get back to their military lab. It’s a bit refreshing that we join them after the zombie apocalypse is already underway. Rather than go through the motions of the characters having to “discover” that the undead have turned into flesh-hungry monsters (a fact that the audience generally already knows) we’re essentially already on the same page with our mains.
As the movie continues, and the pair try to get back to the scientists working on a cure in their lab, they primarily find themselves coming up against human survivors that are far more dangerous than the ‘phages have ever been, including a Vietnam vet who has turned to cannibalism, a preacher who has gone mad thinking he can save the biophages’ souls, and the doctor they’re working for who wants to get rid of Cain because Cain had an affair with his wife. It is nice to see some focus on the humans rather than exclusively on scene after scene of repetitive zombie attacks, but coupled with the “What has humanity become?” tagline on the box comes off as a bit pretentious, as if it’s a novel concept to try and examine the dark side of humanity.
I also think the end was a bit of a let-down in that it felt like it was trying to be shocking, but to me at least came off more as “well, that happened.”

While the cover and the still shots on the back of the DVD case are in color, the movie itself is shot in black and white. This was unexpected at first, but I think works in the movie’s favor. Considering the obviously low budget of the film, it may have saved them from sub-par effects or lighting issues, and honestly keeps the movie looking pretty clean in terms of tech, as well as giving it a bit of an “old war movie” vibe. The cinematography was pretty good too. Not anything revolutionary, but the shots were framed well, and gave it a much more professional feel than most movies in this budget range.
My biggest complaint was probably the sound. The acting of our mains is all right, though a lot of the side characters leave something to be desired. But the dialogue is clearly dubbed in later (or it's been heavily altered in post-production.) The dubbing is synched well, but it means that all the voices are at the same level, and tend to be devoid of much volume-related inflection. This is preferable to some crappy films where you can’t hear what’s going on, but I don’t think I was ever able to forget that I was watching a movie. The sound was jarring the entire time, and so I was never able to be entirely absorbed in the film.
Overall, I think the movie was good. Not the best I’ve seen, but it looked professional and clean, was pretty enjoyable to watch, and was different (and better) than the majority of straight-to-video zombie films out there.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Halloween is AWESOME.

So it’s now October, and I have to take the opportunity to say: I fucking LOVE Halloween. Overcommercialized though it may be, it is one of my very favorite holidays. Pumpkins, bats, spiders, ghosts, horror movies, costumes, free candy… BRING IT.

And as my blog (ostensibly a HORROR blog) languishes, well, I suddenly see an opportunity to get my ass in gear. “It’s October and Halloween is the shit” seems like as good a reason as any to start working through the backlog of movie reviews I’ve built up for myself. So I’m going to try to start posting with… well, still an irregular schedule. But one that involves actually posting! I already cocked up the “post a day” idea, but maybe I can manage two or three posts a week (which was my original intent for this blog.)

[And to anyone who loves horror films: SyFy is doing their “31 Days of Halloween”, so you’ve got a couple freebie horror films each night if you’re so inclined. Edited awkwardly for language and boobs, but generally still including all the gore and most everything else.]