Friday, December 18, 2009

You think this is a costume? Its a way of life!

For the second time in a month I'm writing due to a big loss in not just the world of horror, but all of film. Director, writer, special effects artist Dan O'Bannon has passed away at the age of 63.

Probably best known for directing the cult hit Return Of The Living Dead, which has spawned four sequels to date, O'Bannon was also a very accomplished writer. Penning Alien, Total Recall, Dead & Buried among Others. He even did some special effects work on Star Wars. The man could do it all, and did everything well. He may not have the longest list of accolades but anyone familiar to the genre knows of his impact.

O'Bannon's passing hits me hard as Return Of The Living Dead is one of my favorite horror films and has been a part of my life since I was seven years old. It had a huge impact on me, and really got me into horror and a few years later punk rock thanks to the soundtrack.

So to finish this up all I can say is that it really was a way of life for Dan. Thanks for the memories.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mulberry Street (2006)

The annual After Dark Horrorfest started in 2006 and since then each year After Dark Films has released "8 Films To Die For". Generally these films are straight-to-video quality, with a pleasant surprise showing up once in a while.

Mulberry Street was part of the 2nd annual Horrorfest, which actually presented nine films, though only eight of them made the short theatrical run, with the ninth going to DVD. It was helmed by Jim Mickle who hasn't done much of any significance from the director's chair, though he does have fairly extensive credit as a crew member, primarily as a grip. Its quite obvious that someone with little directing experience was in charge as there was no real style to any of it. There was a considerable amount of shaky cam during the action scenes, which i attribute to being a product of the times for most modern horror and other than that it was shot very straight forward.

A plague-like disease is spreading throughout Manhattan thanks to the rat population. When bitten by an infected rat or human as it came to be, the victim would soon turn into what can only be described as a ratman. The face would take rat-like features including the pointy ears and teeth. And with any movie of this sort, the infected are very aggressive and violent, always looking to make someone else into a six foot rat.

The story revolves around the residents of a single apartment building. Kay (Bo Corre) is a bartender and single mother of a teenage boy who is caught at work when the outbreak occurs. Her friend Clutch (Nick Damici) is fairly stereotypical hard ass from New York who decided to secure her son and the rest of his friends in the apartment then rescue her. He uses nothing more then a pair of taped up fists to do the dirty work along the way.

And that right there is basically the whole movie. Very little else happens, there are some scenes of action with the rat people which are heavily plagued by shaky cam. The residents who poorly barricaded themselves in their apartments are surviving as the rats have a hard time getting in for the most part, and you really don't care about any of the characters too much. Clutch may be the only exception as he puts his own life on the line for Kay and her son.

There isn't too much else to say. The residents of Mulberry Street were ravaged by disease for a night, and according to the newscast on the television so was most of Manhattan but you couldn't prove it even if you had to. The movie never strays from the neighborhood and keeps everything on a small scale. The movie isn't a total failure however. There is enough action to keep us satisfied, even if it seems fairly pointless since staying in your apartment worked out pretty well. And its not so long as to the point of you getting bored but it could have chopped five or ten minutes off and we would have lost nothing.

I think had they gone with a sillier feel to it all it would have been better. Add tails to the rat people, make them more like rats in movement, something. Anything to add some flair to the movie. As it stands its more or less a movie about the Black Death with a lot less death.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Apocalypse Mercenaries (1986)

A couple of months back I was looking around a Best Buy store and a friend noticed a stack of about 15 copies of something called Inglorious Bastards 2: Hell's Heroes. I had no idea that there was a sequel to Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 action movie, and after about 30 seconds of research I found out there isn't. Apparently Video Asia who owns the distribution rights to Hell's Heroes decided to capitalize on the recent interest of films called Inglorious Bastards, and slapped it in front of the title. I then realize this DVD is a set of four action films dealing with war as BASTARDS did. The package contained no information about these movies at all except for their titles and I figured they'd at least be cheesy fun.

Cut to today where I finally popped the disc into the player and decided on Leandro Lucchetti's APOCALYPSE MERCENARIES. I had no familiarity with Lucchetti or the film so all I was hoping for was entertainment for its 85 minute runtime.

The film starts out as a group of 5 mercenaries, each with a specific specialty, get together to do something. What that something was took a while to figure out. After getting through the credits which showed much of the action which was to come, including the same bridge blowing up no less than three times, were finished, it took another forty minutes to get to plot. Those first forty minutes were nothing but the group walking around encountering something and blowing it up. An airstrip, some barrels, a bridge, anything that the Nazis used they were destroying it. I would estimate that at least half of everything up to this point was recycled footage from at least a few other movies, all of which was extremely poorly edited in.

Eventually a plot is revealed, the mercs are going to destroy a secret Nazi hideout built into some caves. So now our heroes have a reason to be carrying large guns which have taken down German bomber planes and turned them to dust, and dynamite which they use without thinking twice. Its more of the same, as the group fights to get to the cave, and by this point I've honestly all interest in the movie. There was one scene that made laugh though. The Nazis had intercepted a radio transmission from the mercenaries and sent bombers to their camp. The camp was in an open green field. The camera cuts to a shot of one of the members on a radio calling for help and you can see outside of his tent and there is clearly snow on the ground, it cuts back to the bombs hitting the ground and its green. After a few chuckles I realized that this whole movie was just sad. Yes, our heroes saved the day and defeated this group of Nazis but I couldn't have cared less.

I've seen a lot of bad action movies and this ranks up there. It wasn't the worst but there really wasn't much redeeming about it. The acting was terrible, the dubbing sounded like they were just reading from a book, a large chunk of the whole movie wasn't even made for this movie. I was hoping for fun, I got a nap-inducing crap fest. I hope the other three movies in the DVD set are better, but I'm not expecting it.


And to add to my disdain for this movie I can't find a poster or any type of artwork from the movie to include in this entry. What a joke.

Edit to add: Just learned that Video Asia is a company widely known for bootlegs. Not a surprise at all since the video was obviously sourced from a VHS in not too great of shape and had burned in Asian subtitles. Just a heads up to any of you DVD buyers out there, watch out for Video Asia.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Decade Retrospective/Tops Of The Decade

If you are among the lazy the lists are below the write up. First is my top 10 horror and then my top 15 films.

As I write this there are 28 days remaining in 2009, in the first decade of the new millennium. Its funny to think that 10 years ago there were people building underground bunkers out of school buses for the inevitable collapse of civilization due to Y2K. Well, nothing happened, life went on, and movies were made.

The 2000s have been quite a remarkable time for film. In the last 10 years trends have come and gone, one of those trends being remakes. Remakes have been a part of cinema for over 50 years, its nothing new. Some are great and surpass the original work and others just should never have been made. However this decade has seen remakes rise to prominence never before seen. It seems that at least half of horror films being released are remakes, usually skimping on quality. Sure there have been the occasional Dawn Of The Dead and The Hills Have Eyes of the bunch where the movie wasn't bad at all and in the instance of Alex Aja's remake of THHE surpasses the original in my opinion, but there have been seemingly ten times as many Halloween (zombieween), Prom Night and April Fool's Day types that were just god awful. This trend in horror seems to be sticking around for the time being as there are plenty more remakes awaiting their scheduled release date or production. For the sake of horror fans, cinema and creativity I hope we can wind this down.

Even with all the remakes there has been plenty of original work in the horror world, and from seemingly more countries than ever before. Of course the range of quality is as big as the taste of us horror-heads. Us Americans are churning out horror like we always have, we've seen the studios going wild with the aforementioned remakes and even starting new franchises from these remakes. Though we still have enough horror lovers to keep strong original work coming.

The French have made their way to the forefront of horror with titles such as Martrys, Frontiers, Ils (Them), and Inside. Whether you love these French films, don't appreciate them or are like me and have very mixed reactions from one film to another you have to appreciate their enthusiasm. The Swiss have released one of my favorite horror films of all time and the Spanish seem to have a firm grasp on how to make a great zombie film. The Brits are also making their share of great films and even the Italians are staying in the game as their film industry continually gets worse and worse.

The Asian horror market is one that has gone wild this decade. Sure its always been there, but now more than ever can you get easy access to their signature style of horror not only on DVD but in theaters a few times a year.

The only trend in horror these days that can rival the remake is "torture porn". I really hate that term and think its stupid, but for lack of a better word, there it is. These are your Saw films, Turistas, and Hostel. These films are wildly popular these days and its easy to see why. People love the extreme. We love it in movies, video games, even real life on the news. We love to see how far we can push ourselves and how much we can take. That's what these types of films do, they show you a lot. I really don't care for these movies the majority of the time, as they don't offer much in the way of story or technical ability and rely heavily on gore. They are gore for the sake of gore as far as I'm concerned. That said I do think the first Saw was good and clever and I enjoy the Hostel films and Eli Roth (you want to fight about it?).

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm not a fan of gore, because I am. I don't know if I'd call myself a gore hound, but I like when the red stuff flows. I have no problem with lots of it either. I just don't like it when that's all the movie is and tries to make itself out to be more than that (I'm looking at you Saw sequels.) Blood and gore has fallen into CGI land where it rarely looks good which is not acceptable considering how easy it is to make.

I think this decade has had some big ups and some major downs for horror. On an extremely positive note the home video market has seen titles I'm sure many of us never thought would see the light of day again. Studios have realized we will pay for what we want, and they give us the goods. On the downside creativity has been pushed to the back burner by these same studios in favor of cash cow, mostly second rate rehashes.

Horror has always been the bastard child of the cinema world, and that's okay. Cinema snobs may never understand horror or how I can have Bergman's The Seventh Seal sitting right next to Silent Night Deadly Night on my DVD shelf, but we don't watch horror to sound smart, or appear intellectual. We watch horror movies to have fun, to be scared and for nostalgia.

The last 10 years have really opened my eyes to film of all type, including areas of horror I didn't even know existed. I hope the next 10 years are just as good, and bad. I mean, without the bad what the hell would guys like me bitch about on the internet?

So to those of you who read that whole thing and didn't skip ahead, thank you. Here are the lists...

Top 10 Horror Films 2000-2009

10. High Tension (2003)- Alexadre Aja

This was the film that made Alex Aja a household name to horror fans. A relentless film with some really great qualities. I'm a big fan of this movie until the ending where it seems they were just trying to outdo themselves in my opinion. I don't let it hamper the rest of the film though.

09. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)- Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright combines comedy, romance and zombies into one neat little package with this favorite among both horror heads and horror haters alike. Its funny, its sappy, not so much scary but that doesn't stop it from being great.

08. Hatchet- (2006)- Adam Green

I love this movie. I know it has generated a ton of mixed reactions from horror fans since its release, but I sincerely love everything about it. The stupid jokes, the practical effects, ridiculous kills, and most of all the spirit of the whole thing. Adam Green is a horror lover and put his heart into this thing. Love it or hate it, its on my list.

07. The Descent (2005)- Neil Marshall

The Descent is a tense, claustrophobic story about a group of women who go spelunking and encounter a nasty bunch of mutant creatures who live in the caves. This was a great blend of tension, suspense and action. This one will please almost any horror fan.

06. 28 Days Later (2002)- Danny Boyle

Before he was an Oscar award winning director, Danny Boyle made one of the best zombie movies of this decade. The shots of a barren wasteland London are breathtaking and almost overwhelming. The story is great, the pacing is great, the action is great. Its a shame the Blu Ray of this film was so terribly handled, I'd love to see it in HD.

05. Session 9 (2001)- Brad Anderson

Its not often that a serious psychological horror film blows me away the way Brad Anderson's Session 9 did. The overbearing size of the Danvers State Hospital is enough to send chills down your spine, and the fact that this movie was shot on location at the hospital added priceless amounts of atmosphere and creepiness. Anderson really made a terrifying film that will mess with your mind for days.

04. The Mist (2007)- Frank Darabont

I really appreciate when a movie has something to say underneath the fictitious story we are all watching without shoving it down your throat in an obnoxious way. That is what The Mist does perfectly. It shows the horror of blind faith, your fellow man and religious extremes all in a monster movie. The acting is superb, you really really hate the antagonist and feel for the protagonists. The ending was a topic of debate among horror fans in late 2007 (and still goes on today) but I was among the crowd that had their stomachs twisted by it. A Grade-A Stephen King Adaptation. (Be sure to watch it in B&W next time you watch it!)

03. [REC] (2007)- Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza

I first heard the hype surrounding this Spanish zombie movie during the ad campaign for its American remake, Quarantine, and knew it was something I was going to have to see. Well it took the release of the Canadian DVD for me to get a chance to see it, and when I finally did it lived up to every bit of hype. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way up to the scary-as-hell finale that still gives me the creeps, even after multiple viewings. I can't wait for the sequel to be released stateside next year.

02. Trick 'R Treat (2008) Michael Dougherty

Oh, Warner Bros, you really blew it with this one. Trick 'R Treat has quickly become known as "the movie that was supposed to come out about 10 times and never did." Well that changed a couple of months ago when it finally made its way to us (straight to video of course) after spending two years on the shelf and we had it sold out just about everywhere for weeks. A fantastic intertwining anthology movie based around Samhain and the spirit of Halloween. With more anticipation building almost every day upon each release announcement for this film it was inevitable it wouldn't live up to many fans' expectations, but its a new classic Halloween film for me. I love how this film perfectly embodies the spirit of my favorite time of the year, while being a very effective horror movie.

01. Let The Right One In (2008)- Tomas Alfredson

Thank you Tomas Alfredson for bringing us one of the few great horror movies of recent memory. There is no shaky cam nonsense, there are no cheap jump scares and the gore used is nothing over the top for the sake of being over the top. This film runs thick with atmosphere and tension. Its a gorgeous film set upon snowy Switzerland. Hands down the finest horror movie of recent memory.

I'm not going to try and do what I did for horror with the whole world of film, so here's my...

Top 15 Favorite Films Of 2000-2009

15. Grindhouse (2007) - Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Grindhouse had a lot of hype surrounding its release in 2007. Tarantino and Rodriguez are two of the best at stylish action movies currently working, so any fan was instantly excited. The double feature with four faux trailers was a blast. Grindhouse was the most fun I've ever had a movie theater and really makes me wish I was old enough to have been able to see a real grindhouse double feature on 42nd St, seedyness and all.

14. The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Its not often these day a western is made, let alone is good. And even rarer, as is the case with this one, great. A beautifully filmed western featuring great performances and a gripping soundtrack from Nick Cave who also wrote the film.

13. Wall-E (2008) - Andrew Stanton

This is the first of a few possible surprises for everyone judging by what this blogger normally talks about on here but you can't deny Wall-E. A story of love and humanity. A great story, with great animation that was eye opening to some.

12. Gran Torino (2008) - Clint Eastwood

I debated for a while where to put this film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. I really love this film and find it pretty powerful but the poor acting from almost everybody besides Eastwood hurts it. Still, I feel Blondie carries it through and delivers a fine film.

11. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) - Guillermo Del Toro

Pan's Labyrinth is a gorgeous mix of fantasy and war. Guillermo Del Toro's direction of the war time horrors and a fantasy world are executed flawlessly. The unworldly creatures are quite a visual treat as well. Go watch it if you haven't, it took me too long to see it myself.

10. Eastern Promises (2007) - David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg has consistently released great movies for over 30 years now and has never gotten the credit he deserved. Eastern Promises revolves around a family tied to the Russian mob because of a child's rape. Viggo Mortensen was nominated for an Oscar for his role. He also worked with Cronenberg in 2005's A History Of Violence (which was in consideration for this list as well). I hope the two work together again as they mesh very well.

09. Almost Famous (2000) - Cameron Crowe

Yet another movie that I had a hard time placing on the list. A great journey through a high school students' time spent with Stillwater, a popular classic rock band as a journalist. Cameron Crowe does a great job showing the ups and downs of growing up, following a dream and doing it all in early '70s rock bands.

08. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) - Nicholas Stoller

This style of humor may or may not be your cup of tea. I'm usually hesitant in watching comedies as I simply don't find most them to be very funny. This one is the complete opposite. I have watched it countless times, with large groups, small groups and all by my lonesome and every single time I laugh until I cry. By far my favorite comedy of the last 10 years.

07. The Dark Knight (2008) - Christopher Nolan

The quintessential comic book movie in a decade where comic book movies were king. That's all I need to say.

06. Up (2009) - Pete Docter

I don't think I could love this movie anymore then I do. Its sad, its uplifting, its funny. The animation is great as is the music. One of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies ever.

05. Requiem For A Dream (2000) - Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky came into my life in 2001, when a friend introduced me to PI. I loved that film quite a bit so when I saw he had another film out I rented it from the video store. What I ended up watching was one of the most depressing, punch you in the gut films that will ever be made. It left me feeling empty inside and I hated the world around me for quite a while after. Its not a pleasant or fun movie to watch, but its excellently crafted, with a stellar cast and one of the finest soundtracks ever put to film. Aronofsky is still batting 1.000 with me almost 9 years later.

04. No Country For Old Men (2007) - Ethan & Joel Coen

When I first saw the teasers for this film I was beyond anxious. I love the Coen Bros. and the source material seemed very interesting. Needless to say the film lived up to my expectations. I'm almost surprised its only at #4 on this list.

03. Let The Right One In (2008) - Tomas Alfredson

What can I say about this that hasn't been said. All I can say is its, in my opinion, hands down the best horror film since the 1980s. The atmosphere, the cinematography, the score, the acting, direction, script. All perfect. Its vicious yet soft in a way. Its much more than a horror film, its a story of companionship, love, revenge, fear, and much more. Tomas Alfredson couldn't have done a better job directing this, getting A+ performances from a very young cast. I get more out of it with each viewing. I don't know what else you can ask for.

02. Inglourious Basterds (2009)- Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino is infamous for borrowing from other filmmakers and making it his own. Basterds is no exception as he takes the title from a great 70s exploitation action film by Enzo G. Castellari (who has a cameo in QT's version). This is far from a remake however, as I have a fondness for just about every Castellari movie I've seen to date for being a really fun time, Quentin Tarantino makes a movie that most directors hope they can make. It has all of his signature touches, it has some perfectly placed subtle humor, great (if not intended to be a tad bit eccentric), a phenomenal soundtrack in part from Ennio Morricone and more action than you can handle. There are winks and nudges to many Euro-cult stars of yesterday that I hope more people will understand. Quentin knew what he had made here and summed it up in Brad Pitt's final line of the film. Congratulations Mr. Tarantino, this truly is your masterpiece.

01. There Will Be Blood (2007) - Paul Thomas Anderson

When There Will Be Blood was released it took a while to get to my local theater, and when it did the screen they were showing it on sat 50 people tops. I remember seeing it with a friend of mine who had already seen it once and there were two others in the theater. I feel sorry for the other 46 people that were absent that night because they missed the kind of film that only comes around once in a great while. Daniel Day Lewis' performance was scary. He played the despicable madman to a T. Paul Thomas Anderson's direction was flawless, the cinematography was flawless and the soundtrack was unnerving. The entire movie defined what it means to be tense. I was never once comfortable in my seat during the duration. Every supporting cast member was worthy of an Oscar nomination. Daniel Day Lewis brought home the Oscar for best lead actor, but the film itself came up short for film of the year to No Country For Old Men, which in any other year would be completely deserving of a win. But in 2007 There Will Be Blood was without a shadow of a doubt the finest film. And it would remain that way for the rest of the decade.

Delirium (1972)

Note- This review is for the international version of the film.

Renato Polselli (THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO SATAN) is known among euro-cult enthusiasts as a director who uses sex as a big part of his films. He doesn't shy away from showing sex, or being perverse with it. He doesn't make any exceptions with the madness known as DELIRIUM.

Produced during the rise of the giallo craze in Italy, DELIRIUM is mainly a giallo with dashes of polizioteschi and madness thrown in for good measure. The film starts out with some pretty typical murders, though this movie doesn't conceal the killers identity for the finale. As the murders unfold a witness is able to piece them together leading to one man.

Now anyone familiar with the giallo sub-genre won't think this is anything new, which for the most part its not, but its the last half hour that really gives this movie its feet. Throughout the film the lead character, Dr. Herbert Lutak (Mickey Hargitay) has an obsession with young women, and their necks to be precise. His wife, Marcia Lyutak (Rita Calderoni), has visions of orgies and torture. These visions are interlaced throughout the film adding to the feeling of insanity. When the climax begins to build, it really is full on madness. It seems every main character in the film loses their mind and descends into a state of delirium. I have never seen anything like it in another film, where that many main characters end up in that state.

Its not an easy movie to review after only one watch, and take out the subplot of insanity and you have little more than a middle-of-the-road giallo but Polselli adds in his little touches that make the movie something more. It will probably leave you with some questions, and a second viewing is most certainly in order, but DELIRIUM was a film that lived up to its name.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One Less Legend

Some sad news in the world of horror as icon Paul Naschy has passed away after a year long battle with cancer yesterday at the age of 75.

Jacinto Molina, more affectionately known to horror fans around the globe as Paul Naschy appeared in 95 films throughout his life and starred in many. He appeared as the Wolfman in more than a dozen films, and always had an entourage of beautiful women waiting for their chance in any given movie. He embodied the horror actor perfectly, and embraced it. He truly loved what he was doing and he didn't hide it. Watch any interview with him and you can tell he loved life.

Naschy was Europe's answer to Lon Chaney. He was one of the last remaining horror legends, and he was a true icon of the screen. If you haven't seen any of his work, now is the time to do so, many are readily available on DVD and some on Blu Ray.

It seems appropriate he died on the eve of the next full moon. Tonight's full moon is for you Hombre Lobo. Rest Easy.