Horror. Worldview. Faith.

The Gravedancers – Review

The Gravedancers – Review

Dec 31, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Mike Mendez, 2006

There is a universal creed among horror movie lovers as it pertains to unknown films:  We live to stumble across that rare gem of a movie that nobody seems to know about and that delivers on all counts.  Let’s face it, for every 15 unknown horror movies we watch, we are lucky to find one that actually is worth the 90 minutes of viewing time.  I took a chance on a movie called The Gravedancers.  I was smiling at the end.

Mike Mendez, a director you have never heard of, takes a fairly bland idea of bringing the spirits of the dead back to life, and has a lot of fun with it.   Three old college buddies are mourning the death of their close friend and decide to visit the cemetery late at night for one last goodbye.  Drinking a little too much and stumbling across a card someone left behind with a rather bizarre poetic sentiment, the trio recites the poem and dances on three random graves.  That recitation (think Evil Dead) and dancing were not so good ideas since the ghosts of those three dead bodies are now out to kill whoever was dancing on their grave.  For Harris, it is an ax murderer.  For Kira, it is a rapist.  For Sid, it is an arsonist.  Once the three collectively realize they are being haunted, they consult some paranormal researchers.  Come to find out, they recited an ancient Irish curse that has now brought the spirits of these dead upon them and they won’t stop until the living are dead.  Actually, it seems that the dancing is really what ticked the dead people off, but I guess the poem was equally effective.  Anyway, after a lot of creepy interactions with the spirits, they finally discover the way to end the curse; dig up the bones of the dead and re-bury them.

This is old-school horror film making done pretty darn well.  I don’t care how many times you see it, whenever an old lady is playing a creepy tune on the piano with her back to you wearing a blood-soaked white gown, you just don’t want her to turn around!  Classic haunted house scares abound in this film, aka The Changeling, but they are not overdone and come across with a glitter of fright.  Mendez also makes sure he covered every possible location for filming that horror movies have been built around for year.  We find the trio being haunted in their house, in a hospital, in a cemetery, and in a Gothic looking mansion in which they get trapped.  One of the highlights of the film was the appearance of Tcheky Karyo as one of the ghosthunters.  Karyo is probably best known for his role as the French military hero in The Patriot alongside Mel Gibson.  He brings a mature and grounded element to The Gravedancers.

The movie certainly has its flaws.  The acting is sub-par, the dialogue is even worse, the audio has issues, and Mendez’s camera seems like it is not always where it needs to be.  Still yet, the look of the film is beautiful, the scares are plentiful, and the build-up of the film works nicely.  By the end, we are thrust into a world of complete paranormal psychosis, which is probably overdone, but I applaud the filmmakers for their willingness to show us what these old friends were actually dealing with.  I found myself laughing, fist-pumping, and at times, flinching throughout the movie.  Really, what more could I want?

If you have Netflix, check it out On Demand.  You will enjoy it.

Click Here to purchase The Gravedancers

Cronos – Review

Cronos – Review

Dec 27, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Guillermo del Toro, 1993

The word “vampire” is never uttered throughout the emotional and gut-wrenching directorial debut of Guillermo del Toro known as Cronos.  Yet, there are few vampire movies better than this.

Several elements of the film could cause a careless viewer to become irritated and even bored.  For example, the action is deliberate and slow-moving.  There is a fairly random mixture of English subtitles for the Spanish dialogue and spoken English, often times within the same conversation.  The film is much more interested in presenting a sympathetic victim in Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) and his relationship with his granddaughter than it is falling prey to the temptation of presenting the epic, romantic version of vampirism that we have come to expect.  Finally, the end is not triumphant for any party and leaves the viewer with a heavy, melancholy feeling.

Of course, all of those things can also be why the film excels in so many ways, and for this reviewer, beautifully captures the true tension of vampirism; is this a blessing or a curse?  Del Toro rightly examines how difficult it is for one who is deeply thrust in their own lust for youth, health, and renewed energy to appreciate the danger associated with such a quest when that journey involves flirting with evil.  Even the young and innocent granddaughter, Aurora, was able to discern the destructive nature of the cronos device.  Interestingly, Jesus Gris never sought immortality.  He simply wanted to see a glimmer in his wife’s eye one more time, he wanted to feel more alive and energetic, and he wanted to feel confident enough to unbutton the top buttons of his shirt when going out in public.   The cronos device offered that.  And we are all susceptible to it.

The story goes that a 16th century alchemist was determined to find the secret to eternal life.  His solution was the creation of the cronos device, a golden, scarab looking device that housed a insect which would suck the blood from its victim, providing continued life for the insect and, after the immediate sensation of pain, would provide the victim with a wonderful and thrilling feeling of youth and vigor.  Unfortunately, that feeling came with two requirements:  the eating of human blood and the continued reliance on the cronos device.

The device finds its way into Jesus Gris’ antique shop where he and Aurora discover its power.  However, there is another player in town, De La Guardia, who has been searching for the cronos device for years because of his weak health.  He dispatches his nephew, Angel (wonderfully portrayed by Ron Perlman) to find the device at Gris’ shop.  From there, it is a struggle between Gris, who is determined to hold on to the device, and La Guardia, who needs it to stay alive.

Cronos is a film all about dependence, and perhaps one could argue, slavery.  As the great musician Dave Mustaine once said, “I’ve seen the man use the needle, seen the needle use the man.”  In all avenues of the film the viewer is confronted with dependent relationships.  The nephew is in “slavery” to his uncle’s bidding.  The granddaughter is dependent on her grandfather.  Jesus is dependent on the cronos device.  The insect inside the device is dependent on Jesus.  And so on.  As many great horror movies will depict, the allure of the “dark side” is not so appealing once you find yourself trapped inside its web.  At the end of Cronos, Jesus is begging to be restored to how things were previously.  The cost of immortality is just too great.

The film was a huge success in Mexico and certainly launched the brilliant career of del Toro.  His ability to blend the subtle with the extravagant is highlighted in this film as is his remarkable ability to touch the heart; some of the scenes between Gris and Aurora are truly touching.  He would use Luppi again both in Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, forming a successful bond between the two.  I hold Cronos in the top 10 of my favorite vampire movies, perhaps even higher than that.  I recommend it without reservation.

Click Here to purchase Cronos

The Human Centipede – Review

The Human Centipede – Review

Dec 17, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Tom Six, 2009

Some films are promoted and sustained by the high level of extravagant shock-value offered through its imagery and motif.  The Human Centipede (first sequence) is the definition of such a film.  Directed by Tom Six, who promises an even more graphic version with his “second sequence” to be released in 2011, relies on the horrid theme of the movie to expunge it of a host of problematic issues, such as acting, editing, and musical score.  None of those typically important aspects of a film are why any of us who are depraved enough to watch this movie dial it in.  We want to see if this film really delivers on the absurd and grotesque plot on which it is based:  a brilliant but crazy doctor who decides to create his own “human centipede” by surgically attaching the mouth of one victim to the anus of the next, making a three person centipede sharing one digestive system.  It really is hard to believe that anyone would watch this garbage.

It was about 30 minutes into the film that I realized I was watching something that had absolutely nothing to offer beyond disgust.  I am not of the camp that believes a horror movie always has some redeeming value simply because it succeeds in repulsing you.  I do believe for all of us horror fans, we enjoy a good kill scene or a great working of gore, but for the most part just shocking the audience with brutal images does not get the job done at the end of the day.  I finished this movie, just barely, realizing that I was in no part the better for watching it at any level.  And in fact, the reverse could be true.  I was thankful when the images were out of my immediate conscience.

Now, having said that, let me say this.  The movie is not near as graphic as one might think.  This is why Tom Six “held off” on the real gruesome stuff for the “second sequence.”  He wanted to get people used to the idea of a human centipede before showing more of what he really wants to show.  Due to the bandages that are used in the operation, you really never see much of the actual surgical point of contact between the parties.  It doesn’t matter though because the human mind is capable of filling in the blanks and mine did so all too well.  Case in point, the first time the “head” of the centipede has a bowel movement, nothing is shown except for the look of terror and disgust in the “second” part of the centipede.  Yet, it was at this point that I was tempted to turn off the movie.  And I probably should have.

So, all I can say about this movie is, well, not much.  I have at least now reviewed it as best I could for TheBlackestEyes, but that is all I really know to say.  I can’t recommend it, nor can I advise you to stay away from it.  Although if you were on middle ground, probably the former would be wise.

Is The Walking Dead on AMC the Worst Thing to Happen to Horror?

Is The Walking Dead on AMC the Worst Thing to Happen to Horror?

Dec 11, 2010

commentary by hallo

The title of this commentary was meant to be worded in such a way to quickly grab the attention of die-hard horror fans.  If you have visited The Blackest Eyes before, you know that all of us who are team members love The Walking Dead on AMC.  I cannot remember a television series I was more impressed with (except perhaps the late, great Dangermouse episodes).  So, let’s make clear from the start that I do not want The Walking Dead to go anywhere, and judging from the incredible numbers of the first six episodes, it isn’t.

Having said that, something is a bit “off” with this AMC phenomenon.  During a podcast a couple of months ago, a reader asked if we thought The Walking Dead would bring about a bunch of low budget, poorly filmed zombie rip-offs in order to cash in the success.  We weren’t too worried about such a thing happening because zombies to not have quite the same appeal as vampires.  Having said that, I am beyond blown-away by the interest and public love of a television series that is brutal, bloody, dark, and at times extremely gross.  People should be repulsed by what they are seeing.  But they aren’t.  They are loving it.

I am listening to folks who hate horror, hate anything scary, and hate the concept of being scared tell me how much they love The Walking Dead.  I am listening to mom’s who keep up with all the latest gossip from the watered-down world of soap operas tell me how much they love it.  I am listening to men who have no idea who George Romero is tell me how much they love it.  What does this mean for the world of horror?  Are these folks going to take a look, many for the first time, at what the world of horror movies has to offer?   Are we going to be forced to add “mother-baby” rooms at next year’s horror conventions because of the massive number of zombie lovers out there?  Is Andrew Lincoln going to become the face of the man who ruined horror for the real fans?  Is this the equivalent of Metallica cutting their hair?

The answer to the last two questions is “yes and no.”  Let me explain.  I have yet to hear a single negative review of The Walking Dead from any of my friends who love horror movies.  I am sure that I could search forums and find some negative comments, but among my circle of friends and acquaintances, all I have heard is positive.  There is no doubt that the approval rating of TWD among horror fans is extraordinarily high.  If TWD continues to enjoy the huge, cross-demographic success it has already enjoyed, we will begin to see a backlash among die hard fans in 2011.  This has already happened with the series Twilight.  Among the many teenagers who I see every week, a good many of them will groan when Twilight is mentioned and these are the same students who memorized every line of the movies just a year ago.  Due to the continued success and wide-spread popularity of the series, it is no longer “cool” to like the series quite as much as they once did (although they all still secretly love it).  This will happen with TWD.  I’m sorry, but true horror fans who have been watching eyeballs getting eaten for decades and loving every last second of it will not stand for homemaker Sue giving this series the big “two thumbs up.”  Even if everything is perfect, that means something must be wrong.

I suspect at the end of the day many horror fans would have wished for a different scenario.  One where TWD is not near as successful, but enjoys a cult following.  One where the series barely survives two years of production and maybe squeaks out three.  And even though they are sad to see the series die, they secretly are happy for the DVD’s to be released so that they can enjoy the greatness of the series, a greatness that is only appreciated by a select few, from the comfort of their Iphone or Android device.

On the other hand, the success of TWD fits in perfectly with what I, and the rest of my team members, have been saying for a year now on The Blackest Eyes.  Mainly, that horror movies tell a story unlike any other genre that is important for human relationships and that more correctly understands the spiritual relationship between good and evil, human against human.  Everyone is a sucker for a good story and TWD delivers in a big way.  And that remains the singular difference between those of us who live and breathe horror movies and those who might be along for a short ride while the story is still good.  We will still be here when the train stops at “the story now sucks” station; everyone else will get off.

Case in point.  Two team members recently reviewed Piranha 3-D, myself and Danny.  I found the film to be somewhat of a disappointment, especially with the excitement I was taking into it.  Danny, on the other hand, gave the film a rather positive review.  Why?  Well, at the end of the day it certainly wasn’t for it’s great dialogue, story, or emotional attachment.  It was because Danny is a gore-hound and the movie will ultimately only appeal to those who truly love horror for all it is about.  You see, even though my love of horror is foundationally grounded in the undertones of the genre, I also love the visual impact of the medium.  Kill scenes, gore, and graphic content of the horror genre fit in with my appreciation for what it has to say.  The two must work together.  TWD is doing this beautifully!  Yes, I am blown away by the story, by the human relationships, by the weight of what they are doing.  But I am also appreciative of how that is in parallel with body parts being hung around people’s necks, flesh being torn from the skin, and people sawing their own hands off to escape.  Whereas my wife can look away from all of those aspects of TWD and still love the series, I cannot.  (Interestingly enough, she is growing more accustomed to keeping her eyes open during the gore scenes, which will be a discussion for another time).

So, one of two things can be said.  It can be said that The Walking Dead is so good that it appeals to a great number of people who otherwise would never look at the kind of images they are watching.  Or, it can be said that The Walking Dead is so awful that it appeals to a great number of people who otherwise would never look at the kind of images they are watching.  For those of you who feel like it is option number 2, I feel your pain and I appreciate you.  At this point, I would be in the option 1 category.  But only time will tell if this incredible new hit series really is the worst thing to happen to horror.