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.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Horror Movie Review: Side Sho (2007)

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

Directed by:
Michael D’Anna

J.D. Hart
Toni Robider
Dana Poulson
Elizabeth Bailey
Hunter Ballard
J.R. Reynolds           

This movie starts off with a pretty awesome opening credits sequence, using vintage photos and advertisements for actual freakshows and side shows that were popular in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, that was probably my favorite part of the movie.

            The basic plot is that a typical suburban American family (plus a friend) is on vacation, heading home on their roadtrip. The father, John (J.D. Hart), is stopping at old roadside amusement parks and side shows in order to take photographs for a book he’s putting together. At a gas station somewhere in Florida, he finds out about a supposedly abandoned freak show just down the road, so the family takes a slight detour, despite the complaints of the daughter, Christy (Toni Robider), and her friend Steffi (Elizabeth Bailey.)
            Turns out that “Side Sho” is not actually abandoned, and the barker (J.R. Reynolds) offers to give them a tour. The family splits up, the girls and the mother, Gwen (Dana Poulson), going one way, the son, Cory (Hunter Ballard) going around the grounds to take pictures, and the father heading with the barker to the “real” freak show. Turns out that it’s full of twisted things like malformed human fetuses, so John freaks out and intends to get the family out of there. Meanwhile Cory has an after school special “we can all be friends despite our differences” moment with a young boy with a facial deformity.
            The family decides to leave, and they rush out of there, but not before a mysterious someone puts water in their gas tank! So the car conveniently dies in front of a group of creepy cabins, and the man there says that it was an old fishing camp. He’ll let them stay the night, since it’s getting dark. But shock! awe! horror! This used to be a prison camp! And the man letting them stay there is part of an extended family of deformed freaks descended from the prisoners, as are the barker and the woman from the gas station, and they intend to kill the father and the son, while keeping the women as “new breeding stock” since they’re getting so inbred!
            What follows for the last two thirds of the movie is your basic slasher run-and-escape-and-fight-and-die-and-kill-and-run-some-more, until the end when two of our heroes escape, to be picked up by a police officer… but as the scene ends, we see that HE IS ONE OF THE DEFORMED FREAK FAMILY.

            The movie is pretty average, which in some ways is a shame because the tech is great. The cinematography is fantastic, and the sound direction is good as well. Set design and such is also great. Leonard Wolf provides the soundtrack, which has more presence than I’m used to (by which I mean I noticed it pretty constantly, rather than it fading into the background) but it was well done and has some pretty good tracks. It’s actually kind of sad that such good tech went to a film that’s so average in many regards.
            The acting is middle of the road. It’s not unwatchable, but particularly at the beginning, the dialogue is horribly stilted. Very “you have said your line, therefore I will now respond with my line,” not flowing like anything resembling an actual conversation. It sounded almost like sitcom dialogue where they pause for the laugh-track or other audience reaction. This seemed to be less of an issue later in the movie, though probably because it was more running and screaming and less “conversation.” The woman from the gas station they meet at the beginning bothered me the most as far as acting – she looked like a kid doing an impression of a crotchety old woman, scrunching up her face to talk out the side of her mouth (if you ever watched the 90s kid show “The Amanda Show” on Nickelodeon… it looked like Amanda Bynes’ old woman impression)… It was distractingly awkward looking.
            The story itself is pretty basic slasher fare, without really adding anything new. The effects are pretty good, from the makeup of the freak family to the blood. And while the plot is standard, and you can pretty well guess which characters are going to be offed, the death scenes are pretty creative. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two reptile-related deaths in the same non-reptile-horror film – one person having their face crushed in with a turtle, one getting a terrarium with a poisonous snake smashed on his head. Lots of killing of the innocents, lots of return killings of the villains. But it’s not aided by having the predictable “twist” ending of the escape-but-not-really-because-it-was-a-trap. That just shoved it into eye-rolling territory for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Horror Movie Quick Review: Fertile Ground (2010)

Overall: C+

Directed by:
Adam Gierasch

Gale Harold
Leisha Hailey

Fertile Ground is the story of married couple Nate (Gale Harold) and Emily Weaver (Leisha Hailey). After Emily has a tragic miscarriage, they move to Nate’s ancestral home in the country, presumably in order to move on.
As time goes on, Emily begins to believe the house is haunted, and she finds disturbing materials such as the diary of a former Weaver bride who was eventually murdered by her husband. Human remains are found in their yard, and a local historian tells Emily how many strangely similar deaths have occurred in that house.
 Nate begins to act strangely and threateningly toward her. She realizes that an ancestor of Nate’s murdered his wife there, and that ever since, the people in the house have been essentially possessed by his spirit, accounting for the near identical deaths of so many women at the hands of men in the house.

There was a lot that I enjoyed, particularly the artistic direction. There was some really great use of light and shadow, some beautifully framed shots, etc. The story itself was pretty good, if relatively typical of ghost stories (the “ghosts possessing and reliving significant events/changing the people present” isn’t exactly original… see, duh, The Shining or Amityville Horror and countless others.) I thought it was pretty well acted, and liked the characters well enough. Parts of the story dragged a bit, mostly because it was too predictable to justify the sometimes drawn-out suspense. There were a couple parts I found genuinely creepy, but some parts fell flat. For better or worse, the movie doesn’t contain much gore, which I generally like, since over-reliance on gore has become lazy shorthand for “this is a horror movie!” Few people seemed to like this one, largely because of its slow pace and somewhat predictable story. I do think they’re valid criticisms, but if you can get beyond the pacing, I think it’s still a decent ghost story.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Horror Movie Review: Razor's Ring (2008)

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

Directed by:
Morgan Hampton

Wayne Casey
AnnieScott Rogers
Paul Schilens
Lisa Wharton
Nate Duncan

            The basic plot of this one is that an innocent guy named Scott (Wayne Casey) is just out for a jog, when he’s suddenly kidnapped by the couple Razor (Paul Schilens) and Julie (Lisa Wharton.) Their motives for this are never really explained… they’re both wanted by the police, but they’re driving around running over people and animals as a game, and for some reason they grab Scott and take him with.
            They aim to run over a little girl, and Scott attempts to get control of the car, and they end up hitting an old man. The man’s family members attack the three, capturing them and taking them to see “Red.” The three are kept in a shed, where they’re tormented in various ways (Razor has a finger cut off, Julie is forced to stand naked on their dinner table, Scott gets stabbed…) And Red (AnnieScott Rogers,) the apparent matriarch of the group insists that she’ll slowly let each of them go over the next few weeks, so her family will think they’ve been justly taken care of.
            Blah blah, stuff happens, Julie and Razor are supposedly let go, Scott is allowed to come live in the house rather than the shed, and he’s taken to a big party they’re putting on. As he’s eating, he finds Razor’s ring (clever title!) in his food, and he realizes that OMG THEY’VE BEEN EATING PEOPLE. AND HE’S NEXT. Either a Soylent Green or a Troll 2 joke would be appropriate here.
            Spoilers! He escapes, there’s the fakest explosion ever, and he returns to society. But then he realizes that he’s now addicted to eating human flesh! He then buys the land the cannibals were living on, and is apparently planning to eat his girlfriend? Or something. (End spoilers.)

            Anyway, not a good film. The characterization was very inconsistent – Razor and Julie plan to pin the death of the old man on Scott, Scott plans to tell the truth about his non-involvement, so they’re fighting with each other most of the time. But then suddenly they’ll be acting like great friends, trying to work together, or just talking to each other. And what’s ostensibly a couple days later (though we’re told that it’s been weeks, sometimes; there’s no real sense of time passing) Razor and Scott sit talking about how wonderful the food is, and how great things are. (It’s funny because they’re EATING JULIE, GET IT?)
            The acting is pretty poor, though not the worst out there. Some is likely more budget than anything, but in a couple scenes it appears an actor screws up a line and then just has to roll with it. None of the characters strike me as very believable in their roles, though. The one exception is probably AnnieScott Rogers as Red, as she’s pretty entertaining. She falls into the “watch my extreme mood shifts to show I’m evil” acting camp, and could be considered the low-budget Kathy Bates-as-Annie Wilkes, but she’s pretty good as both a violent psychopath and as the kindly grandmother-type.
            The sound direction was all right, but the filming was not. It appears to be done almost exclusively with a handheld camera, sometimes going out of focus, always unsteady, using clumsy zooms to focus on things. Scenes are terribly edited together, in some cases making it painfully clear that the two people or events that are being cut between aren’t happening even remotely near each other.
            The effects are laughable. Most of the gory scenes aren’t shown, probably for the better, because the blood effects are pretty sub-standard. And the explosion at the end… we both literally started laughing at how silly it looked.
            This movie definitely felt like a waste of time. But it gets a D simply because my bar for an F has been set so incredibly low.

(Happy October, everyone!)