Archive for December, 2010

Waxwork (1988)

Directed By: Anthony Hickox

Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Patrick Macnee, Charles McCaughan, David Warner, Miles O’Keefe, J. Kenneth Campbell, John Rhys-Davies

Sub-Genre: Horror-Comedy

Waxwork is a fun little story about a bunch of college kids in a small town going to check out a wax museum that has seemingly popped up out of nowhere.  Be warned before watching this, there are some outrageous plot twists, coincidences, and just a lot of shit that doesn’t make sense.  Roll with it.  Have fun.

Sarah, China, Tony and Mark (played by Zach Galligan) go to a special midnight showing at the museum, only to find they are the only guests invited, but decide to stay anyways.  Oh, the butler is a “little person” and his cohort is a monster of a man.  Seriously, you add up all this shit so far and I would so out of there, but, if people made good decisions in these movies, they would be pretty boring, so into the wax museum we go.

All of the displays are from the horror genre and feature Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, Dracula, an alien pod, Jack the Ripper and many more.  Tony drops a lighter into a display and when he reaches in to grab it, finds himself transported into a forest.  It looks like each display is a portal into the actual scene.  Tony has the misfortune of meeting John Rys-Davies, who soon turns into a werewolf and bites him, as werewolves tend to do.  Two hunters burst into the door, killing the werewolf and Tony, who is already starting to turn.  The camera pans out and back into the wax museum where we see that Tony has become part of the display.  It’s no surprise to anyone, but this wax museum is not what it seems! China happens to stumble into a Victorian dinner occupied by vampires, which doesn’t end well.  Mark manages to gather up Sarah before she enters the Marquis de Sade display and they get the hell out. 

We see a couple more “display” scenes, including a pretty decent Mummy one.  Here is where the plot gets a little nuts.  Mark recognizes the owner of the museum from a newspaper clipping, and after talking to Sir Wilfred, a family friend, discern that Lincoln (the owner) has 18 trinkets belonging to some of the most evil people in history.  Lincoln needs a victim for each display to bring about the end of the world, where the dead will rise, and chaos will run rampant.  Never really understood that as a goal for the bad guy.  Doesn’t sound like much fun.  World domination, sure.  Mountains of wealth? Why Not? But the Earth in chaos being overrun with the living dead doesn’t appeal to me, unless brought to me by Romero or Fulci.

Anyways, enough souls are gathered and all the displays comes to life just as Sir Wilfred and a small group of armed men show up at the museum.  A battle-royal busts out that rivals anything Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan brought us in the past.  Pretty much everyone dies, with the exception of Mark and Sarah, who escape the museum as it bursts into flames, taking all the evil displays with it. 

It looks like we have a happy ending, except that a severed zombie hand is shown scuttling away from the burning house, setting up the sequel that would soon follow.

Waxwork is fun, mostly because of the different displays.  It’s fun to see the different takes on classic genre staples, even though most of them were fairly generic in the first movie (something that changes in the second one).  Fans of campy 80’s horror should check it out.

Zombie (1979)

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Movie Review
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Zombie (1979)

AKA: Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Island of the Living Dead, Zombie Island

Director: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Richard Johnson, Olga Karlatos

Sub-genre: Zombies

When it comes to zombie flicks, it is generally accepted that George A Romero is the father of the modern genre, the Knight of the Living Dead, if you will.  However, if anyone can come close to challenging Romero, it is the Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci.

Fulci has given us many great zombie movies, and his most popular one may very well be Zombie.  Released in Italy as Zombi 2 in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in Italy as Zombi), Fulci’s classic more than stands on its own.

Zombie starts with a sail boat drifting into New York Harbor.  When the Harbor Patrol is unable to hail anyone on board, the investigate, only to find a bloated, decomposing zombie that attacks and kills a police officer before being shot and falling overboard.  We soon find out that the boat belonged to a doctor that was away on a topical island doing some form of research (never a good sign in a zombie movie).  After a quick introduction to Anne (the daughter) and Peter (a reporter), we are off to the Caribbean to find the island of Matool.

Once there, Anne and Peter hook up with Brian and Susan, who have a boat and agree to take them to the island, even though the locals say it is cursed and should be avoided.  Once again, when in a situation where the locals say something is cursed, heed their advice.  Pretty sure that throughout cinematic history, they have never been wrong.

While Susan is scuba diving we get to witness what I consider to be the best scene ever in a horror movie.  An underwater zombie battles a shark.  Yes, a shark.  Pretty convincing scene too.  Check it out for yourself.  It has been featured in commercials and t-shirts have been made commemorating it.   It is worth watching the movie just for this scene.

On the island of Matool, we meet another doctor and his wife.  They have an argument and then the wife takes a shower, gets attacked by zombies, and we get to witness another infamous scene.  The splinter through the eyeball.  Fulci was a mad genius.  He more than deserves his moniker as The Godfather of Gore.  He didn’t seem to mind large amounts of gratuitous nudity either, judging by the scuba diving scene and the extended shower scene with a full length mirror.  No wonder this guy is a genre favorite.

Anyways, Zombie ends as all good zombie movies do.  The living dead attack en masse.  There is a showdown at the hospital.  Susan and Brian are both killed and turned to zombies.  When Anne and Peter escape, they take the infected Brian with them as evidence, because who would believe that the dead have come back to life without evidence?

The evidence turns out to be unnecessary, as they soon receive a radio report that zombies are attacking New York City.  The movie ends with zombies shuffling across the Brooklyn Bridge, which I think is an absolutely brilliant ending.  It would have been cool to see a sequel where New York was invaded by the living dead.

Fulci’s masterpiece was released in the UK in the early 80s with nearly 2 minutes cut, as this was the only way it would be allowed to be played in theatres.  When a distributor released an uncut version, the film subsequently landed on the infamous Video Nasties list, a list that many of us horror fiends use as a “must-see” list.

There was, of course, a Zombi 3 released in 1988, and Fulci even worked on the follow-up.  Not surprisingly, the movie had nothing to do with Zombi 2 (or Zombi for that matter), with the exception of featuring zombies.

Originally posted on www.film-talkrefugees.com on November 25, 2010.

Splice (2009)

Directed By: Vincenzo Natali

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, David Hewlett, Simona Maicanescu

Sub-Genre: Science Fiction

This was one of those movies that I really, really wanted to like.  I dig this subgenre of horror.  Splice gives us an amazing concept with a more than capable cast, and Director Vincenzo Natali brought us the subtly brilliant Cube, so I had reason to be excited about this movie.  The first act of the movie lived up to my expectations, setting the table nicely. 

We are introduced to biochemists Clive and Elsa, a couple working in a gene splicing lab creating hybrid animals for medical research purposes.  By all accounts, they are highly successful, creating a slug looking creature and its mate, both designed to supply a certain protein used for fighting several diseases.  They are excited about their success and are ready to take the next step, splicing with human DNA.  The company they work for, NERD (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development), has other plans.  Apparently gene splicing is tough on the pocket book, and they need to start turning some profit, so they want our two braniacs to stop splicing and start researching just how to synthesize this protein.

Clive and Elsa decide to go ahead with splicing, integrating human DNA into the mix, without permission.  They are successful, but during their success, they neglect their other duties, leading to a rather unfortunate and gory event in front of the media and investors where the original creatures attack each other.  This is where the movie starts to go downhill.  By all accounts, Clive and Elsa are two of the most brilliant people on the planet, yet they continually make the worst decisions in the history of science.  They fail to see what is happening right before their eyes. 

As their spliced human-creature, named Dren, continues to grow, Elsa treats her like a child and Clive becomes sexually attracted to her.  Had Natali chosen to go with one of these developments, I think the movie would have been great.  However, both the scientists continue to act bat shit crazy, and the experiment spirals out of control.  Dren becomes dangerous, setting up a showdown at the end of the movie that features a rather obvious twist and was rather anticlimactic. 

Splice was close to being a great movie, but just got too f’in weird and didn’t make sense.  Good acting and directing make it watchable however.  Besides, there is a lot of really bad sci-fi horror movies out there.

The Burning (1981)

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Movie Review
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The Burning (1981)

Directed By: Tony Maylam

Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Carrick Glenn, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

Sub-Genre: Slasher

The Burning is a lesser known slasher gem brought to us by none other than the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob.  They were looking to cash in on the slasher craze started by John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Harvey and Bob co-wrote the script and Harvey took up Producer responsibilities as well.  They discovered a early version of the slasher blueprint that would make successful entries for years to come.  They took a cast full of young and upcoming actors and had a hideous killer come up with imaginative ways to kill them off.  Perhaps the biggest key to a successful flick was the employment of FX wizard Tom Savini.

Anyways, The Burning starts with a flashback to Camp Blackfoot, where we hear the tale of Cropsy, a mean old caretaker at the camp, who picks on (and maybe kills) all the kids.  Well, it is time for the kids to strike back with the mother of all practical jokes.  A couple of boys place a rotting skull with candles on it at the foot of his bed, intending to give ol’ Cropsy the scare of his life.  Sounds great, except Cropsy inadvertently kicks the skull in his panicked state, engulfing himself in flames.  We see a quick montage of Cropsy’s rehab and learn that he is very deformed and very pissed off.  Pissed off enough to kill a hooker.  That’s pretty pissed off, and now he is headed back to the camp for some well deserved revenge.

Now it is time to meet the victims campers.  Now everyone remember Kevin Bacon and Johnny Depp getting their starts in horror flicks, but The Burning has its fair share of names in it as well.  Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Brian Backer all show up here, as well as Leah Ayres, who you would probably recognize from Bloodsport.  The story is the usual camper fare, with the older kids taking off on a canoe trip.  There are some minor plot lines in between, but the real gravy is Cropsy taking out the kids.

There are some pretty inventive kills throughout, almost all of them utilizing Cropsy’s trademark weapon, garden shears.  One particular scene was the victim of pretty heavy editing thanks to our friends at the MPAA.  The raft massacre, where 5 of the campers bite it at the same time, was the victim of slashing in its own right in order to obtain an R rating.  Lame.  Anyways, Savini does another great job here.  The Burning is worth checking out just for his work.  He is on record as saying he wasn’t all that happy with Cropsy’s look , as he looks like he is melted, rather than burned, but Savini only had 3 days to come up with the look.

The Burning ranks pretty high up there on the Slasher list, and deservedly so.  Check it out before Hollywood decides to remake it.

Black Christmas (2006)

Posted: December 27, 2010 in Movie Review
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Black Christmas (2006)

Directed By: Glen Morgan

Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Hudson, Andrea Martin, Kristen Cloke, Crystal Lowe,  Robert Mann

Sub-Genre: Slasher

I am not against remakes as a whole in the horror genre.  The history of the genre is built on remakes, sequels and different takes on the same stories and legends.  There are well over 250 films that feature Count Dracula in a major role, so it isn’t as if horror fans aren’t used to it by now.  What I am against are shitty remakes, and there have been a slew of them the last couple of years.  Case in point, Black Christmas, or Black X-Mas, released in 2006 on Christmas Day.  This remake featured a knock out cast, at least in the looks department, and a pretty slick ad campaign.  It went on to make a little over 16 million at the box office, more than enough to ensure Hollywood’s continued exploitation of genre classics.

I had heard so many bad things about Black Christmas that I had avoided it until this weekend.  The Playstation Network offered it as a free Holiday movie over Christmas weekend, so I figured I would give it a shot.  I suggest that Sony sends someone out to my house to take a shit in my stocking next year; it would probably get about the same reaction.

I guess my biggest beef with this new take is that they gave Billy so much background, much like Rob Zombie did with his remake of Halloween.  In the original, Billy was a psycho.  No explanation needed.  He was just out to kill.  Well, in the remake, we know that Billy was hated by his murderous mother, and that Billy’s mother raped him one night and then bore his child, which was also his sister, Agnes.  Guess that is what it takes to make a psychopathic killer.

There are some decent aspects of the movie, but not enough to outweigh the poor ones.  The acting is above average for a genre entry, and all those pretty faces do a pretty decent job, although I found it difficult to be sympathetic to any of the girls.  I guess they played the stereotypical sorority girls just a little too well. 

The actual kills were pretty well done, with a good mix of on screen gore and cutaways.  There was a bit of an inside joke with the death of Melissa, played by Michelle Trachtenberg.  As she was attempting to escape, she was scalped by a pair of ice skates.  Trachtenberg was the star of Disney’s Ice Princess, so kudos for that little jab at the House of Mouse, although it may have gone unnoticed by most horror fans.  I had no idea until I read about it, but I guess Ice Princess is a little further down my Netflix queue than some.

Black X-Mas definitely belongs on the naughty list, but not in a good way.  Do yourself a favor and stick with the original.

Black Christmas (1974)

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Movie Review
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Black Christmas (1974)

Directed By: Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Lynne Griffin, James Edmond Jr, Keir Dullea

Sub-genre: Slasher

Silent Night, Evil Night was an alternate title for Black Christmas

Most people credit Halloween (1978) to be the movie to start the slasher craze, but it wasn’t the first of its kind, not by a long shot.  Maybe you can look at Psycho as the original slasher, but many of the core elements differ in Psycho.  I look at two movies that came out well before Halloween as the early entries for the subgenre.  The first is Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, released in 1971.  The second is Black Christmas, brought to us by Bob Clark.

Black Christmas even pioneered the holiday slasher craze.  Sure, Halloween came a few years later, and then inevitably horror movies taking place on Valentine’s Day, April Fools, New Years Day and just about every holiday in between.  Christmas would become a popular target in the 80s as well, with Silent Night, Deadly Night being the front runner and putting out an astounding five entries in 7 years.

Anyways, Black Christmas takes place at a Sorority House over Christmas break where the remaining girls are receiving obscene phone calls.  The brash Barb, played by Margot Kidder, tells off the caller one night, and he concludes his call with “I’m going to kill you.”  This is enough to unnerve everyone, especially Claire, who goes upstairs to pack.  Of course, this is a horror movie, so she is killed and stashed in the attic.  Weapon of choice?  A plastic sheet.  Interesting, but not very slasher-like. 

Claire’s father shows up later looking for her and joins the cast of potential victims, along with a few boyfriends, making up a pretty stock cast of stereotypes for our villain to choose from.  Throughout the movie, our villain, whom we will come to know as Billy, keeps calling the house.  His calls are some of the creepiest damn things I remember in a movie.  They are a combination of grunts, groans, laughs and hysterical babbling.  It never ceases to unnerve me.  It’s almost like nails on a chalkboard.

Billy starts taking out the girls one-by-one, including the typically drunk house mother until only Jess (Olivia Hussey) remains.  Jess believes that her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea) is the killer. The ending is a bit ambiguous, as the police storm the house to find Peter bludgeoned to death, presumably by Jess and Billy nowhere to be found. 

The police, also believing that Peter is the killer, start to deal with the reporters as the camera pans up to the attic, showing the yet undiscovered bodies of Clare and the House Mother.  Billy then utters one of the creepiest lines of the move, “Agnes, it’s me, Billy.”  Up to this point we did not know his name.

One of the reasons that Black Christmas excels, at least in my book, is that we have no back story, no motive for the killer at all.  The 2006 remake spends way too much time trying to give us his life story and reason for being psychotic. Billy is much scarier without a reason to kill.  Bob Clark leaves it up to our imagination.

Black Christmas is essential viewing for the horror fan, especially this time of year.

976-EVIL II: The Astral Factor (1992)

Directed By: Jim Wynorski

Starring: Patrick O’Bryan, Debbie James, Rene Assa

Sub-Genre: Demons & Possession

I am not sure how a mediocre horror movie goes about getting a sequel, let alone getting the sequel without the “star” director coming back, but four years after the original, we were treated to The Astral Factor, the second installment of the 976 series (which currently stands at 2).

I guess if you are going to serve up a sequel to a none too successful movie, you might as well try and get your target audience on your side from the very beginning, and Wynorski does just that by having the opening scene feature a naked college coed taking a shower and then donning a clingy white shirt running through the hallways for her life. 

The plot to The Astral Factor revolves around a campus where people are turning up dead at an alarming rate.  It’s no secret to the audience that the killer is none other than Mr. Grubeck, the dean at the college.  Grubeck is not acting on his own though, he is being helped along by, you guessed it, SATAN!  Why would the dark lord show up when he can utilize a demonic phone line though?  The haunted phone line is back, and Spike is on a mission to stop it. Yes, he is back.  Same actor even.  Guess the guy was happy to get another pay check.

Anyways, Satan has given Grubeck the ability to astrally project himself to kill more victims after he has been arrested, so he is committing crimes while behind bars.  The story is pretty weak, but overall, some of the effects and deaths are decent.  It’s probably a little better than the first, but not by much.  I guess there is a reason it hasn’t gotten a R1 DVD release to date.  I guess I can thank Netflix for staying up to watch this train wreck.