Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

The Reef

Directed By: Andrew Traucki

Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith

Synopsis: The crew of a capsized sailboat attempt to swim to a nearby island but find themselves the prey of a Great White shark.

Thoughts:
There have been 569 reported fatal shark attacks…in the last 433 years (according to Wikipedia at least). According to those stats, there are more movies about killer sharks released each year than people actually dying from them. Most of these movies are either terrible, or so bad that they are good, however, every once in a while, one of them can jump up and bite you. The Reef is one of those movies.

While I really enjoyed The Reef, I think the weakest part are the characters. I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to develop characters while they are swimming for their lives, but the entire first act of the movie takes place prior to the boat accident, which I thought was fairly slow and somewhat uninteresting. I wasn’t totally invested into the characters, but still found the second half of the movie to be very tense, which is a testament to the story and the direction.

Speaking of direction, Andrew Traucki sure has a thing for man eating animals. This was his follow-up to Black Water which featured a killer crocodile and he’s also released The Jungle, which features a jungle cat of some sorts (I have yet to see this and don’t want to spoil anything by digging around). His direction on The Reef is very impressive, especially when the movie hits the water, so to speak. The combination of his direction, the camera work and the special effects are very believable. There wasn’t a single scene with the shark that looked fabricated to me, which is a pretty impressive feat.

The single best element of this movie is the unrelenting tension of the climax. Traucki did a remarkable job of consistently building up to the climax, knowing when to pull back to let you catch your breath, only to make you hold it again in the next frame.

I highly recommend checking out The Reef, but caution viewers to give it time. It starts out a little slow, but the payoff is well worth the weight.

The Haunted Palace

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr, Debra Paget, Cathie Merchant, Frank Maxwell, Guy Wilkerson

Synopsis: Charles Dexter Ward and his wife find more than they bargained for when they inherit the palatial estate of his great, great grandfather.

Thoughts: The Haunted Palace is one of AIPs and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe offerings. The only problem is that the only thing Poe contributed to this story is the title. The actual storyline comes from another legendary horror author, H.P. Lovecraft.

If you are a fan of classic horror, it doesn’t take long before you are as happy as a kid in a candy store. Not only is Vincent Price in this movie, but the iconic Lon Chaney Jr also plays a major role. It’s pure heaven for horror fans.

Corman does his thing, providing lavish sets, tight direction and some nifty camera work, all while letting his stars do their thing. As I’ve watched a few of Corman’s early works, you see similarities throughout. He’s never afraid to try a new trick or two, but his direction and camera work is always rock solid. He trusts his actors, something that seems mutual, and that really shines through in their roles.

The combination of Vincent Price, Roger Corman, Lon Chaney and H.P. Lovecraft is just as powerful, if not more powerful than the other Corman/Price offerings. In fact, this has become one of my favorite Vincent Price movies. The performances, story, and set pieces are just fantastic. If you haven’t seen this underrated gem, check it out.

Q The Winged Serpent

Directed By: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

Synopsis: Two police detectives try and solve a series of grizzly murders that may be related to a giant winged serpent in New York City.

Thoughts: New York was not a very pleasant place in the late 70s and early 80s, although it was fascinating. Q takes place during that time frame when Times Square was filled with sex shops, grindhouse theaters and drugs galore. It’s a very familiar setting for genre fans, as well as fans of Director Larry Cohen. Many of his films take place here. It’s easy to imagine a cross-over of sorts where characters from Q interact with other characters set in New York City like Belial (Basket Case) or Frank Zito (Maniac).

Larry Cohen takes that gritty New York setting and mixes it with a healthy dose of Ray Harryhausen stop motion animation in the form of the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl. The animation is pretty choppy, but that just added to the gritty feeling of the movie for me.

The acting is surprisingly good, with Michael Moriarty delivering a very believable lead character. Moriarty was a frequent collaborator of Cohen’s but is probably more recognized for his run on TV’s Law & Order in the 90s. The two detectives in the case are also familiar faces. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree each have a resume that could fill a theatre on 42nd street, so seeing them pair together as detectives is pretty cool.

Larry Cohen had quite a run of cult classics in the 70s and 80s, although he never had a mainstream success that would propel him to stardom. Without Cohen, we wouldn’t have the crazy It’s Alive series and we would not know what The Stuff was and why it was so damn tasty. He also directed the underrated God Told Me To. His movies all have a certain feel to them, and many feature detectives or police procedures. There are times that Q feels like two concurrent films as the detectives investigate the murders and Quetzalcoatl flies around eating people.

Q is a pretty bizarre film, skirting horror, drama, and science fiction, but it is a pretty fun ride. I had a great time watching it and suggest it to anyone wanting to watch something out of the ordinary.

Pit and the Pendulum

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Anthony Carbone

Synopsis: Francis Bernard travels to his brother-in-law’s Spanish castle to investigate the cause of his sister’s death.

Thoughts: Following the success of The Fall of the House of Usher, the first American International Pictures Poe picture, the studio quickly moved to make another film. The story of The Pit and the Pendulum was chosen, and within a year, production was underway.  Although House of Usher was a success, the budget was still rather modest.  The set had to be piecemealed from around the back lots and even other studios.  The final product is pretty impressive none the less.

AIP knew that the Poe follow-up had to feature Vincent Price, even though his success made him more expensive.  As he always does, Price delivered in spades.  His unhinged performance as Nicholas Medina, as well as his father Sebastian in flashbacks, can be a bit over-the-top at times, but if you love Price, this is fun to watch.  Fresh off her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, Barbara Steele played the ill-fated wife of Price’s character, and the subject of the investigation.  It’s really a shame she didn’t get more screen time, as it would have been fantastic getting to see her presence pair up with Price’s.  Corman felt that her accent was too thick, so the lines she did have ended up being dubbed over for the final version.

Roger Corman was also asked to come back for the follow-up.  Corman has been quoted as saying that filming was enjoyable and that a lot of preplanning led to an uneventful shoot.  Although Corman is rightfully known as a pioneer in low budget movies, he did not believe in filming by the “seat of his pants.”  He was notorious for carefully planning out the entire shoot.  He experimented a lot here with camera movements, especially throughout the climax of the movie.  The flashback scenes were especially masterful, using a blue tint and crazy camera angles.

I’ve only watched three of the Poe adaptations done by Corman, but this remains my favorite.  The combination of the story, the set, Price’s character and Corman’s direction puts it over the top.

Fall of the House of Usher

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Elerbe

Synopsis: A man goes to great lengths to save his fiancé from an ancient curse.

Thoughts: The combination of Vincent Price, Roger Corman and Edgar Allen Poe was a potent one in the 1960s and this movie is where it all started.  Vincent Price starred in all but one of Corman’s Poe movies and it’s easy to see why.

Price is very comfortable in period pieces.  So much so that when you see him in a modern movie, it seems to be a bit out of place.  Price absolutely exudes charisma and commands the viewer’s attention whenever he is on the screen.  Here he plays the very insane Roderick Usher.  Price takes the Usher family curse and makes it a part of his character, wincing at every sound and reacting beautifully to his environment.  It’s easy to see why he is an icon of the genre.

Price isn’t the only one here that delivers a great performance, although it is easy to let Price’s performance overshadow the others.  Mark Damon, who plays Philip, actually won a Golden Globe for his performance and would use this role to catapult his career.  While he performed in multiple westerns and had a lengthy career in Italy, genre fans would most likely recognize his name as part of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath.  Myrna Fahey’s performance is matched by her beauty as she brings the tragic character of Madeline Usher to the screen.

It seems a little silly to recount the career and accomplishments of Director Roger Corman.  The man is responsible for a multitude of great horror movies and was revolutionary in the world of budget filmmaking.  He was relentless, and often shameless, about taking advantage of the latest craze in Hollywood and making a profitable film.  What is truly amazing about Corman, is that he didn’t just make money, he also made entertaining movies. The Fall of the House of Usher was the start of a lengthy relationship with Vincent Price and the tales of Edgar Allan Poe.  Something tells me it wasn’t incredibly difficult to direct Price, but Corman combined him with a great cast, some amazing set pieces and delivered a really great movie.

This movie is essential viewing for fans of Gothic horror. It sits very well with movies from Hammer studios and obviously the other Price movies of the era.  It’s also a great place to start with Vincent Price or the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Eight Legged Freaks

Directed By: Ellory Elkayem

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug, Rick Overton, Leon Rippy

Thoughts: It’s no secret that I’m a fan of giant monster movies, whether they be Kaiju or the giant radiated monsters of the 50s & 60s.  I was with this in mind that I recently revisited this 2002 release that is part comedy, part homage to movies like Them!, Tarantula and more.

The cast is a mixed bag, really depending on what you think of David Arquette.  He’s an admitted horror fan and pretty funny guy.  I will say he can be over the top at times, but I liked him here.  Eight Legged Freaks also featured a young Scarlett Johansson a year before her breakout role in Lost in Translation.

The real stars of the movie are the spiders.  I actually thought the early part of the movie, where the spiders had yet to grow to giant proportions was pretty creepy.  For whatever reason, spiders are scarier to me at their normal size than when they are the size of  a Buick.  Once they are super-sized, the madness really starts though.

Director Ellory Elkayem caught the attention of Hollywood and Rolan Emmerich in particular with his short film Larger than Life.  It was this short film that would become the basis for Eight Legged Freaks.  Sadly, this is his biggest movie to date, although he has gone on to direct two Return of the Living Dead sequels, Necropolis and Rave to the Grave.  I’m not sure most horror fans are willing to forgive him for that though!

Eight Legged Freaks isn’t much of a horror film per se, but it is quite a bit of fun. Personally I hate spiders and this didn’t do much to freak me out, at least after the first few scenes of the movie.  It is a pretty funny movie that does a good job of honoring its predecessors.  It makes for a pretty decent Saturday afternoon viewing.

Silent Night Deadly Night 2

Directed By: Lee Harry

Starring: Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jean Miller

Thoughts:What we have here, is a failure to come up with a feature length script.  This was fixed by having close to 45 minutes of flashbacks to start the movie, as told through Billy’s brother Ricky.  The story goes that the studio wanted to make a sequel with little to no additional footage, but the director insisted that they at least film some new scenes.

Even with the flashbacks you could tell that Eric Freeman, who played Ricky was a nut, and I mean that in the best possible way.  His character is bat shit insane and Freeman pulls no punches.  His delivery of one liners like “GARBAGE DAY!” and eyebrows that have a mind of their own really made the last half of the movie.  It’s a damn shame he never really did anything else.  He may have been able to parlay this role into a career in horror.  Other than Freeman, the acting bordered on forgettable and terrible.

Director Lee Harry was essentially a “one and done” as well (sensing a theme here).  He recently directed a couple of shorts, but other than that, hasn’t been heard from in Hollywood.  Much of this has to be due to the studio trying to make money off the name of the original without paying anyone.

Once you get past the flashback scenes, this is a pretty fun slasher in the so bad it is good vane.  It’s so over the top that you can’t help but laugh while watching it.  I just can’t get over the excessive flashbacks so while I think the first will be a regular viewing for me, I can’t foresee me watching this all that often.  Once is enough.  If I need a fresh dose of Garbage Day, I can head to YouTube.

 

Silent Night Deadly NightDirected By: Charles Sellier

Starring: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Britt Leach, Linnea Quigley, Leo Geter, Charles Dierkop

Thoughts: I’ve watched countless horror movies from may countries, eras and genres, but the Christmas horror subgenre is not one I’ve really dove into before. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that Christmas is right behind Halloween as a favorite holiday in our house.  This past December, I decided to make an effort to see some more Christmas horror and ordered up the entire Silent Night series. Although I only got to the first two movies in December, I plan on watching the entire series before too long.

As I was watching Silent Night for the first time, it occurred to me that the relationship between Billy (Wilson) and Mother Superior (Chauvin) was very similar to what we see in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Now, don’t get me wrong, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the best movies ever made, and Silent Night, Deadly Night is a marginal horror classic, but the relationship is similar.  Mother Superior’s iron fist pushes Billy to the edge, raising the long running question of nature versus nurture.  Would Billy have overcome the traumatic events of seeing his parents killed by Santa if he had more of a loving figure to raise him?  No one will ever know, because he sure didn’t overcome them.

Director Charles Sellier seldom moved behind the camera, but he has a long career.  He’s written, produced and worked on countless movies and TV shows.  His most famous has to be The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, a show that ran in the late 70s on NBC.  Looking at his filmography, this seemed like a odd choice for Sellier.  The majority of his work is around documentaries and historical figures, although he did occasionally work within the genre.  His lone directorial effort in the genre sure did leave its mark, as Silent Night, Deadly Night was highly controversial.

The ads for Silent Night, Deadly Night created a feeding frenzy among PTAs across the country.  Pretty much every critic of the era also railed the movie, which all horror fans now only creates a larger desire to see it.  Had there not been such a public outcry over a killer dressed as Santa, there probably would only have been one movie.  Instead, there are four sequels and a remake.

The storyline is actually very good.  A young child sees his parents killed by someone in a Santa outfit and grows up to be a psychopath with a disdain for the holiday season.  I was actually surprised at the quality of this movie, and it moved up on the list of favorite slashers of the 80s.  It still has its ridiculous moments, but overall it is very effective, although never really scary (but are many 80s slashers?).  This will make its way into my yearly rotation and it should make it into yours as well.

Youre Next

Directed By: Adam Wingard

Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Ti West, Lane Hughes

Synopsis: A family reunion turns violent as masked intruders murder people with seemingly no motive.

Thoughts: I’ll admit that I will never understand the machinations of Hollywood.  They continue to pump out really weak horror movies every month, but very good movies struggle to get a release.  Movies like You’re Next and Trick ‘r Treat are perfect examples of this madness.  You’re Next was actually filmed and ready for release in 2011, but didn’t see a release until 2013.  It met positive reviews overall and earned somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars, not bad for a movie that was made for about a million dollars.

One of the strengths of the movie is the cast.  Even the actors that don’t stick around very long deliver great performances.  The two most recognizable names have to be Barbara Crampton and Ti West. Crampton, who is well known for her roles in Stuart Gordon’s films, plays the matriarch here.  Her beauty is second to known, even if she is under a pretty heavy layer of makeup here.  In fact, when she first appeared on screen, I didn’t recognize her!  Ti West, the director that brought us The Inkeepers and House of the Devil, plays an ill fated boyfriend.  The leads also do a great job. I loved Sharni Vinson as the lead.  Her role was a cross between the leads from Death Proof and The Descent.  She is definitely a badass!

Adam Wingard is part of the VHS crew that is up and coming, which explains West’s role in the movie.  I love what he did with You’re Next.  It’s not a complex plot, but Wingard kept it light while still delivering some very gnarly death scenes.  Home invasion movies have a tendency to be very dark, with the story aiming to make the viewer uncomfortable, yet I didn’t feel that at all here.  It was much closer to the conventional slasher movie.

I really liked You’re Next.  I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it was a fun movie with some great death scenes.  The plot twists were easy to see coming, but that didn’t prevent me from having a good time.  This is by far the most light hearted take on home invasion that I have viewed, which is a large part of its success.  I recommend seeing this if you’ve given it a pass.

CHUD_II_Bud_the_Chud

Directed By: David Irving

Starring: Gerrit Graham, Brian Robbins, Bill Calvert, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Robert Vaughn

Thoughts:
A sequel can often times go in a bit of a different direction than the first movie.  It happens all the time, but in the case of CHUD 2, the studio went in a completely different direction. About the only resemblance to the first movie is the use of the CHUD acronym.

We are led to believe that the military is working on a CHUD program to create a new type of weapon.  In an obvious plot device, one of the CHUDs escapes and hilarity ensues.  Gone are the radioactive cannibals from the first movie.  Instead we get Gerrit Graham with pointy teeth and penchant for peering into windows like the neighborhood Peeping Tom.  The movie has more in common with 80s comedies than horror movies, a lot more.

The cast has all your typical screwballs, including the aforementioned Gerrit Graham who you might recognize as the swinging father from another crazy 80s movie TerrorVision.  He plays the titular Bud, infecting the town and turning them into CHUDs and even choreographing a flash mob (way before its time!). There really aren’t any acting gems here in CHUD 2 and it’s hard to judge performances on such a silly movie.

Who do we have to thank for delivering this interesting take on one of my favorite 80s monsters?  That would be director David Irving.  In what has to be more than coincidence, the only thing that Irving has done since is work on documentaries (just like the director of the first CHUD).

I honestly don’t like this sequel much, but that has more to do my love for the first movie than anything else.  CHUD 2 is barely in the horror realm.  The only thing that ties it horror is the first movie and the fact that Bud is a creature of sorts.  The movie isn’t scary or gory and will have you groaning more than anything else.  If you love cheesy 80s comedies, then you will probably like this one.