Archive for July, 2011

After watching a couple of really poor entries into the vampire genre, I needed a purge of sorts.  Over the course of two days, I watched the entire Dracula Legacy Collection, a handful of Hammer classics, the science fiction take on vampires Lifeforce and of course Monster Squad with the kids.  After watching some of the best the genre has to offer, I thought it was about time I put together another top ten list, with the last one being werewolves in April. 

Just like the werewolves, this isn’t a ranking of quality, importance or anything like that.  This is what I think of the movies and which ones I enjoy the most.  Of course, your comments are always appreciated!

1. The Horror of Dracula (1958)

2. Dracula (1931)

3. The Lost Boys (1987)

4. Near Dark (1987)

5. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

6. From Dusk Till Dawn (1992)

7. John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)

8. The Monster Squad (1987)

9. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

10. The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

There were many other movies that could have made the list, and there are still quite a few I have yet to see.  I could have put more Hammer films on the list, but most seem like extensions of the original.  This list is highly subjective, and if I put together the list in 6 months, many of the movies would more than likely shuffle around.  The one exception are the top two slots.  I think that they are the best vampire movies out there.

Brotherhood of Blood (2007)

Directed By: Michael Roesch, Peter Scheerer

Starring: Victoria Pratt, Sid Haig, Ken Foree, Jason Connery, William Snow, Wes Ramsey

Subgenre: Vampires

Brotherhood of Blood

Synopsis: A team of vampire hunters aim to infiltrate a coven of vampires to rescue one of their own, while the vampire demon Vlad Kossel is being resurrected through a human, threatening both human and vampire kind.

Thoughts: I had high hopes of finding a gem here with Foree and Haig on board.  Even if the story and effects were lacking, I thought those two could carry the scenes they were in.  Apparently they knew this was going to be a stinker while they were making it, as they didn’t seem to put much effort into it at all.

On one hand you have a team of vampire hunters, racing to save their teammate, Carrie, from the clutches of the vampire, King Pashek (Haig), and his coven of vampires.  On the other, you have the return of the evil vampire lord Vlad Kossel.  It gets to be a bit much, especially when the execution is lacking.  I thought that this would have been a better movie if you just had the team trying to rescue Carrie, going up against Haig and Foree (who also plays a vampire), but it tried too hard to be unique.

While there wasn’t a lot I like about Brotherhood of Blood, there was one scene that was pretty brutal, when Ken Foree’s vampire character gets his teeth pulled out.  It’s something you don’t see a lot in vampire flicks, and I thought it was pretty well done.

It’s always tough to review a movie that you didn’t like, especially when it is mostly due to poor execution.  Getting two horror icons and failing to deliver just seems like a waste of opportunity, and I was probably a little tougher than normal here because of their presence.  I’m not sure I could recommend Brotherhood of Blood to even the most hardcore horror fans.

See No Evil (2006)

Posted: July 31, 2011 in Movie Review
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See No Evil (2006)

Directed By: Gregory Dark

Starring: Kane, Steven Vidler, Tiffany Lamb, Mikhael Wilder, Craig Horner, Christina Vidal, Rachael Taylor, Luke Pegler, Samantha Noble, Michael Pagan, Penny McNamee, Cecily Polson

Subgenre: Survival

See No Evil

Synopsis: A group of juvenile delinquents is taken to a burnt out hotel to help clean it up so it can be converted into a homeless shelter.  Little do they know that crazed killer Jacob Goodnight has chosen the same hotel as his new home.

Thoughts: So, as far as I can tell, this was the World Wresting Entertainment’s first foray into the movie business, or at least the first one to be released directly by them.  It stars the monstrous Kane as Jacob Goodnight, and he was just as menacing on the screen as he is in the ring.

See No Evil does a lot of things right.  The setting is fantastic, and the burnt out hotel gives us a ton of places to hide.  I thought that the “secret” passageways could have been skipped, it was just a little to unbelievable.  You could argue that the kids would never have been brought to a condemned building like that, especially to spend the night, but I let it go once Kane started to do his thing.

Kane made a great killer.  The guy is so damn menacing, that it required very little makeup for him to portray Jacob Goodnight.  The rest of the cast, particularly the kids, are what you expect to find in a slasher/survival movie.  Aside from a few examples throughout the years, this is how it has always been.  The adult leads were decent, but I could have lived without the prosthetic hand angle as well.

This was Director Gregory Dark’s first feature film, and I thought he did a pretty decent job.  There are some things I could have done without in the movie, but for the first time in the chair, I thought his work was commendable.  I did think the finale was pretty poor though, mostly due to some sketchy CGI.  There were probably better ways to end the movie.

Like I said, See No Evil did a lot of things right in this genre.  The setting and the killer were fantastic. It tried to differentiate itself with minor plot points such as the prosthetic arm and secret passageways, but those just served to annoy me more than anything else.  The genre wasn’t reinvented with this one, but I am more than a little surprised we have not seen the return of Jacob Goodnight to the horror genre.  This is worth checking out for slasher/survival fans and a must see for wrestling fans.

The Fly (1986)

Directed By: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel

Subgenre: Science Fiction-Horror

The Fly

Synopsis: Seth Brundle is a brilliant scientist who has invented working teleportation.  He reaches out to a reporter to show her the device, but something goes ary when a pesky fly sneaks into one of the teleportation pods.  Brundle’s DNA becomes entwined with the fly, prompting massive changes in physical appearance and psyche to Brundle.

Thoughts: The Fly is a shining example of how a remake can work.  The original Vincent Price vehicle is a decent flick in its own right, but it really doesn’t hold a candle to Cronenberg’s vision.  This is a very tragic and moving story, but it is also filled to the brim with horrible visions and stomach churning effects. 

Where to begin?  First off, the acting is brilliant.  Jeff Goldblum is nothing short of brilliant.  The fact that he didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination just goes to show you that when it comes to genre films, Oscar has his head up his ass.  The emotion that Goldblum was able to convey at the end of the movie, even with all that makeup and latex on, was a site to behold.  John Getz was great as well.  I am generally not much of a Geena Davis fan, but even her role here was great.  There just isn’t a bad performance here.

David Cronenberg has made some truly bizarre movies, and several of his films have earned the badge as “body horror.”  After watching shows like The Fly and Videodrome, it is easy to see why.  This isn’t to say that Cronenberg doesn’t have a pretty wide range of films under his belt though.  His recent films with Viggo Mortensen were brilliant in their own right.  Cronenberg is obviously a very talented director, but there are times that his films are hard to access for the average viewer.  The Fly is not one of those films, and is a great place for a Cronenberg rookie to start.

So we have great acting and great directions so far.  Well the story is great too.  There are not a lot of genre entries out there that really invoke any emotion, but The Fly can be a gut wrencher.  It is really sad at times, as you see what Brundle is going through and what it does to Geena Davis.  I don’t want to give any plot points away, but it is a pretty emotional flick.

Now, this isn’t just some sob story.  The effects are insane as well. This is one area where Hollywood got it right and The Fly won a little gold statue for Best Makeup.  As the movie progresses, Brundle’s transformation gets more grotesque by the frame.  Just when you think it can’t get any more disgusting, the dial is turned up another notch. 

I also have to note that I had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen recently, which really amplifies just about every aspect of the movie.  One area that I don’t often pay much attention to is the score, but seeing this in the theatre really showed just how powerful music can be in a movie.  It was no surprise to see Howard Shore’s name behind the music.  The guy is a legend.

I honestly can’t come up with something negative to say about The Fly.  It is a must see flick, and not just for genre fans.  Often times, horror fans label a move as must see because it spawned a subgenre or endless sequels, but The Fly stands on its own as a truly great movie.

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Directed By: Daniel Stamm

Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley

Subgenre: Demons & Possession

The Last Exorcism

Synopsis: Reverend Cotton Marcus is a disillusioned minister bent on exposing his ministry as a fraud.  Reverend Marcus has performed countless exorcisms, all of them fraudulent.  He sets out to film his final exorcism, including revealing his “tricks of the trade” but gets more than he bargained for.

Thoughts: Exorcism movies, when done well, can be pretty damn scary. I count The Exorcist as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, so I guess you can say that I am a fan of this subgenre.  While The Last Exorcism is not on the same level as the original Exorcist, it is a pretty good movie in its own right.  It is filmed in a “found footage” style, but the camera is not too shaky most of the time.  It is an example of using this medium effectively without nauseating the audience.  The camera work reminded me of Behind the Mask quite a bit.

On top of a decent story, I thought that the acting was superb all around.  Patrick Fabian does a great job as the suave evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (even his name is great). I was totally immersed in the film, and Fabian had a lot to do with it.  The rest of the cast is great as well.

Director Daniel Stamm hasn’t been at the helm of very many movies, but after seeing his work here, I will seek out A Necessary Death, as it looks very interesting and is filmed in the same manner as this.  I look forward to his future projects as well.

Now, you will notice I said this was a pretty good movie, but not a great one.  I loved the movie all the way up to the ending.  Now, I don’t want to give away any major plot points, but I thought the ending jumped the shark a bit.  I think that Stamm tried to take the ending to the next level, but it just wasn’t set up enough. I thought that there were several options that would have made for a better ending, either that or Stamm needed to paint a better picture leading up to the ending.  It just didn’t seem plausible.  I’ve thought a lot about the ending in the last couple of days, and even though I wasn’t happy with it, it didn’t ruin the movie for me.  This is something I will watch again.

This is something that I would recommend for all horror fans.  It is an entertaining watch and tame enough for non-genre fans to watch as well.  There are some pretty tense scenes, but the gore is not too crazy.  If this one passed you by, check it out.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days

Posted: July 24, 2011 in Movie Review
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30 Days of Night: Dark Days

Directed By: Ben Katai

Starring: Kiele Sanchez, Rhys Coiro, Diora Baird, Mia Kirshner, Harold Perrineau, Ben Cotton

Subgenre: Vampires

Synopsis: A year after the events in Barrow, Stella is intent on convincing the general public that vampires do exist.  This brings the attention of several parties, both vampires and those that hunt them.  She joins a group of hunters that are searching for Lilith, the queen of the vampires, who controls the vampire population.

Thoughts: Direct to DVD releases are always a mixed bag.  Sometimes they are great (Trick r Treat for instance), and sometimes they are lacking.  Sadly, Dark Days falls into the latter.  Everything that made the first one great is essentially gone.  Instead of a stark, cold, isolated location, this takes place in L.A.  It is less about survival and more about hunting vampires, which isn’t really a bad thing, just a departure from what made the first one good.  Dark Days seemed more like a sequel to Blade or John Carpenter’s Vampires.

The acting was decent, but not great.  I didn’t think there was much in the way of standout players, and the acting was on par with what I expect from a direct to DVD release.  The same can be said for the Direction, nothing that stands out, but a decent job overall.

One of the biggest issues I had with Dark Days was the ridiculous vampire fangs.  I am not sure what sort of dental appliance they decided to use for the teeth, but they didn’t look natural on the actors, especially on Mia Kirshner, who played Lilith.  She looked like she was wearing those cheap plastic teeth that are everywhere come Halloween.  I know this isn’t a huge issue, but it was really distracting for me.

Overall, I would give this a pass if I were you.  A lot of the issues I had with it are due to the departure of what I liked about the first movie, but it still wasn’t very good.  If you really like movies with a big vampire hunter theme, this may be for you.

30 Days of Night

Directed By: David Slade

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall

Subgenre: Vampires

30 Days of Night

Synopsis: The town of Barrow, Alaska is preparing for the annual 30 day long period in which the sun does not shine, hence the title 30 Days of Night.  This year will bring a new challenge with it in the form of bloodthirsty vampires.

Thoughts: This is a movie that has grown on me over multiple viewings.  The imagery of the dark blood on the stark white snow is really powerful.  When the vampire siege begins, director David Slade opted for an overhead shot showing the chaos and blood spilling onto the snow throughout the town.  It is one of my favorite shots in recent horror history. 

The vampires in 30 Days are significantly different than many we have been seeing in movies of late as well.  They are evil savage creatures that hunt without mercy.  They are cunning and use human kind’s emotions to trap them.  The look of the vampires is very Eastern European, and really works.  The vampires communicate using a language that consists of guttural clicks and raspy howls.  It was developed by a professor of linguistics and aimed to be very simple and very original.  Basically, I thought the vampires were great, and one of the best things about the movie. 

The acting ranges from amazing to passable.  I thought Danny Huston and Ben Foster were brilliant.  The more I see of Ben Foster, the more I think this guy is one of the best young actors around.  One of the things I like best about Foster is that he isn’t afraid to take a wide variety of roles.  He’s received critical acclaim for his role in 3:10 to Yuma, but has also taken roles in genre and action films.  I hope he continues this trend.

As far as studio executives go, Josh Hartnett is the big star here.  I remember seeing his name as the town Sherriff and I immediately had flashbacks to 1998 when Ben Affleck starred as the town Sherriff in Dean Koontz’s Phantoms.  Anyone that has seen Phantoms knows that isn’t a good thing.  Thankfully, Hartnett isn’t nearly as bad as Affleck in Phantoms.  I still wouldn’t call him his role great, but it was passable.  Most of the other townsfolk were all right and it was cool to see Mark Boone Junior as I am a huge Sons of Anarchy fan.

This was David Slade’s second feature film, with his first being the savagely great Hard Candy.  He is off to a great start in his career, even if his third film is part of the Twilight saga.  I have yet to see any of the Twilight movies, and probably never will, but I sure hope that Slade decides to bring us more movies like Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night.

Like I said, I have seen this multiple times, and each time I watch it, I tend to find more things that I like. The ending, which I really didn’t like all that much before, has grown on me.  It wasn’t so much the events in the finale that bothered me, but the fact that it happened so quickly.  I thought it could have been expanded upon a little more, to give it some more weight.  The audience doesn’t get much of a chance to ponder exactly what Hartnett’s character is doing.  I am sure that time constraints had something to do with the hurried feeling of the ending.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this one.  It is well worth your time and I suggest revisiting it if it has been awhile.  Sit back and enjoy the visuals and the great acting by Ben Foster.

Cemetery Man (1994)

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Movie Review
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Cemetery Man (1994)
{Dellamorte Dellamore}

Directed By: Michele Soavi         

Starring: Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi, Stefano Masciarelli,

Subgenre: Zombies

Synopsis: Francesco Dellamorte and his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi are charged with taking care of a cemetery in a quaint Italian village.  This is not any cemetery however; the dead that are buried here tend to come back to life.  Things get even more complicated when Francesco falls in love and his grip on reality starts to slip away.

Thoughts: This is not your standard Italian zombie flick.  There is a story here; a fantastically well written and complex story.  Honestly, I have watched this multiple times, and there are nuances I catch every time.  Based on just how deep this story runs, make sure you are in a mood to pay attention when you sit down to watch it.  The zombie action will probably be enough to get you through it, but where this movie really shines is in the story.  Cemetery Man touches on love and death (hence the title) as well as many other subjects.  I would love to see someone with a psychology degree analyze the movie.

Director Michele Soavi is a bit of a cult legend himself, mostly on his reputation from this movie.  He also directed The Church and Stagefright, and worked with many Italian icons, most notably Dario Argento.  Shortly after directing Cemetery Man, he disappeared from the film industry, but I have recently heard a buzz that he may return to direct a sequel to Cemetery Man.  If this is the case, it would be a much anticipated return to the horror genre.

Yet another thing that sets this apart from so many other horror films is the superb acting.  Rupert Everett really shows his acting skills here, and would go on to star in much more mainstream fare.  Personally, I love the job that Francois Hadji-Lazaro did as Gnaghi.  He played a very unique character and really sold it.  Great stuff indeed.

To top off a great story and acting, the effects are great as well.  There are some great looking zombies here and some of the death scenes are just something to behold.

In case you couldn’t tell to this point, I think Cemetery Man is a great movie.  It transcends the genre with its strong story while holding the banner of a horror movie high.  It works on so many levels that it is a movie that demands multiple viewings.  If you haven’t seen this yet, what are you waiting for?  If you have watched it, try it again, and pay attention, you might catch something you didn’t before.  This is a rare form of zombie movie, one that provokes thought amid the undead mayhem.

Event: Graveyard Shift: The Fly (1986)

Where: Alamo Drafthouse, West Oaks Mall #429, Houston, TX 77082

When: Saturday, July 16th 10:00 PM

Event Description: The Graveyard Shift is a new monthly event at the West Oaks Drafthouse where classic horror cinema is shown.  This is not merely a screening of the movie however; it is accompanied by some great vintage trailers that fit into the theme of the night, as well as fun, games and prizes galore.

My Thoughts: This is the second installment of the Graveyard Shift, as they showed Creepshow last month.  Sadly, I was traveling last month and had to miss that one.  I made sure I was not going to miss this one, and I am sure glad I made the drive.

First off, Robert Saucedo, the organizer of this great idea, really strives to make this a fun time.  His love of genre films oozes from his very pores and he puts a lot of time, energy and resources into the night, even going as far as to add prizes with his own money.  To top it off, he was dressed up like Vincent Price from the original, complete with a latex Fly mask and hand and lab coat.

Upon entering the theatre, you can sign up for the door prizes and games and pick up your collectable fly swatter, which is really only for fun; I doubt this thing will be collectable.  It made me laugh and seemed to be a hit with the crowd.  It helped set the mood for the evening. 

Vintage trailers were also playing on the big screen right away; I caught Patrick, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, and many other very obscure titles playing.  After settling in and ordering myself a beer, Robert strolled to the front of the theatre to start the festivities.

Things kicked off with an arm wrestling match, where two random guests were chosen.  It was over pretty quickly with the winner taking home a t-shirt from Rotten Cotton (I think that was the prize, working from memory here) and the loser getting an original Judy Moody poster, much to the amusement of the audience. 

Next up was the Fly Concoction Chugging Contest.  Four lucky individuals came up to see who could drink a blended mix of powdered donuts, Sugar Babies, Honey, Twinkies and Rock Star Energy Drink.  It looked as horrid as it sounds, but the winner got to take home a Criterion copy of Videodrome.  I would have drunk it for that little gem, that’s for sure.  The other contestants also got Serbian Film shorts from Rotten Cotton.  The winner did a great job, while the other three didn’t drink much at all.  Still a blast though.

The final event was a trivia contest; with the winner getting a great little swag bag from Fear Net, complete with some apparel and an Alien Quadrilogy box set!  The questions all revolved around The Fly, its sequel, the stars and David Cronenberg.  They got progressively more difficult and I thought it was another great portion of the night.

After the games were done and the prizes awarded, it was time to start the screening of The Fly.  While I won’t review the film here (look for it in the near future), I will say that the quality seemed to be in great condition and it never ceases to amaze me how seeing a movie on the big screen makes you sit up and take notice of the nuances that are present.  The score really enhanced the movie for me, not that The Fly needs any help, it’s a great movie.

I’ll end this by saying that if you are a fan of horror movies and live in the Houston area, you need to make it out to some of these events.  Attendance was great last night, but the more people that show interest, the more things like this can happen.  It is very well done and run by people that have a love for the genre.  I plan on making next month’s event, where the will be having a double feature of An American Werewolf in London and the original Fright Night.  Hope to see you there!

Note: Next month I will be making sure I bring a camera to get some pictures of the festivities!

The Black Cat (1981)

Directed By: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver

Subgenre: Supernatural

Synopsis: A detective is investigating a string of bizarre deaths in a small town, and it soon becomes apparent that a cat is somehow involved.

Thoughts: The Black Cat is not one of Fulci’s most celebrated films, but it came out in his flurry of genre films from 1979 to 1982, which included Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, The New York Ripper, and Manhattan Baby, as well as The Black Cat.  That is a pretty damn productive stretch and includes some really great movies.  While The Black Cat isn’t even close to the top of this list, it has some decent moments.

As is always the case with Fulci’s work, the death scenes are suitably gory.  Fulci always had an eye for death, and poured it on in just about every single one of his genre films.  Honestly, I have not watched much of his work outside the genre.  The FX is easily the shining point of the movie.

The movie can be confusing at times, as the primary antagonist seems to change motives and desires at times.  It is based very loosely on Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name, but Fulci travels his own path with the accursed Black Cat with only the finale drawing from the story.

The acting is give and take as well, with the best performance coming from Patrick Magee who plays a Professor in the film.  The others range from acceptable to poor.  It seems to me as if cast and crew, including Fulci, were in this one for the paycheck.  There just isn’t the inspiration that can be found in some of Fulci’s work.

The Black Cat should really only be of interest to Fulci fans or fans of Italian horror. Fans of Poe’s work won’t find much here, other than the inclusion of a malevolent black cat.