Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Monsters – Review

Monsters – Review

Mar 31, 2011

reviewed by danny
directed by Gareth Edwards, 2010

I don’t believe I have ever used the word “lyrical” to describe a giant-monster movie before now, but that was first word that popped into my head after watching Gareth Edward’s powerful, touching Science-fiction/horror film Monsters.  Monsters is the story of two travelers who, after a not-so-cute meet, find themselves allies on a hike across a dangerous landscape.  Often in horror films, the personal stories that filmmakers include seem perfunctory and get lost among the more fantastical, high-concept elements of the plot.  In Monsters, the “little” stories drive the plot.  The film explores how personal tragedy and conflict can dictate how we behave even during a large-scale disaster.

The details on what has happened on earth are sparse.  We learn that a NASA ship crashed while carrying evidence of alien life. Six years later, Northern Mexico is under quarantine because it has been “infected” by the alien life forms.  Monsters follows a photojournalist, Andrew, and an American tourist, Samantha, who, unable to book passage to the US when the army shuts down the region, decide to hike to America across the Infected Zone.  These characters, not the giant monsters are the heart of the film.

As the two characters make there way across the beautiful but ravaged landscape (Edwards experience filming natural disaster documentaries certainly shows), we learn through flashbacks about what was going on in each of their lives before they found themselves stranded in Mexico.  Their stories are common and familiar.  Being so, it would be easy for the stories to be simple character development.  Not here.  It becomes obvious that it is the alien crisis that is playing in the background as the characters work through these smaller issues.  All along, the two characters are also growing closer together.  It isn’t a film working its way inevitably to a kiss, but there is always the hope that together they can deal with the pain they each carry.

We really don’t see the aliens for most of the film.  We hear them off-screen, see parts of them during an attack, see them in the distance battling soldiers.  This delay in gratification builds a great deal of suspense.  We wait to see what the creatures are going to look like, how they are going to behave.  When our protagonists finally see the creatures up-close, the film doesn’t disappoint, but it also doesn’t give us what we might have been expecting.

It is strange.  The movie doesn’t have a big twist in the end or any real surprise plot points, but I am wary of giving many more plot details for fear of playing spoiler.  This is a film that it is best to come to fresh because it challenges so many conventions, albeit in a quiet, non-jarring way. All I feel safe saying is that the big reveal of the monsters and the final scene with our characters feature a powerful juxtaposition.  The main theme of the film is revealed in these two scenes.  I think it is that theme, not the plot, that I feel so wary of spoiling.

Lyrically paced, beautifully shot and deeply personal, Monsters is a film unlike any I have seen before.  At a time when mainstream horror is stuck in a deep, depressing rut, I am ecstatic that independent horror can come up with something so fresh and powerful.  Monsters gets my highest recommendation.

Click Here to purchase Monsters

The Mummy – Review

The Mummy – Review

Mar 28, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Terence Fisher, 1959

Legendary horror director Terence Fisher cemented his status as horror icon with the release of the 1958 masterpiece Horror of Dracula.  The movie set box-office records in the UK and the US, only to be broken one year later by the release of The Mummy.  Yes, Hammer Horror was establishing itself early on as a force to be reckoned with, arguably remaking Universal’s most prized horror gems into even better stories and adaptations.

The Mummy is about a team of archaeologists in the 1890’s who discover the tomb of the Egyptian princess Ananka.  There is much celebration over the once-in-a-lifetime find except when Ananka’s high priest returns from the dead to destroy those who desecrated her tomb.  They can’t say they weren’t warned – just before the team opened the tomb, a messenger of doom (who reminded me of Kazim from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), who still worships the God Karnak, declared that all who desecrated Anaka’s place of slumber would be destroyed.  It is this mysterious Egyptian who eventually summons the power of Kharis, the high priest, and bids him the task of hunting down and killing the archaeologists.

Peter Cushing stars at John Banning, one of the three desecrators, and Christopher Lee portrays the high priest/mummy.  Although The Mummy lacks the charm, elegance, and beauty of Horror of Dracula, there is still much to be appreciated in the film.  Lee presents a sympathetic monster who is more concerned with his true love Ananka than he is on the destruction of the desacrators.  When Banning’s wife appears on the scene and looks strikingly similar to the Princess Ananka, the intentions and loyalties of the mummy dramatically change.  In this way, The Mummy reminds the viewing audience that the heart for a woman can soften even the most determined acts of revenge.

In a neat piece of trivia, The Mummy was one of those films where the principle artwork and posters were released before the movie had even finished production.  Many times, the artwork was not in parallel with the imagery of the film.  So, when Christopher Lee saw the movie poster with a big hole gaping in the mummy’s chest, he was determined to make sure that happened.   So, at the end of the movie, we see the mummy getting elephant guns blasted through him.

This is just simply a classic that must be viewed by every horror fan.  Don’t go into it expecting Brendan Fraiser.  It is way better than that.

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Cabin Fever – Review

Cabin Fever – Review

Mar 12, 2011

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Eli Roth, 2002

Is Cabin Fever a horror movie?  Of course it is; who can deny the graphic and grotesque deterioration of the human body  that lands Eli Roth’s film safely in the sub-category of body horror.  But still we must ask, why?  What makes Cabin Fever different than, let’s say, the 1995 movie Outbreak starring Dennis Hoffman and Morgan Freeman.   Both films concern a deadly outbreak of an unknown virus that rapidly and morbidly disintegrates human flesh.  Whereas most “body horror” films have a clear “evil” persona to them, such as The Fly, or the Cronos device, the alien in The Thing, or even the deranged Dr. Heiter in The Human Centipede, the villain in Cabin Fever is the disease itself (and, of course, the inability of the friends to get along).  No one is coming back from the dead to hunt humans.  No one is masterminding the spread of the disease.  No single character personifies the disastrous results of contracting the virus.  It is simply a survival story of 5 friends in the woods.

Perhaps one answer is that we should re-think whether or not a film like Outbreak is actually a horror movie.  My colleague and team member, Danny, has some ideas as to what constitutes a true horror film, specifically related to body horror, and his review of Black Swan seems to indicate his willingness to place films under the horror category that might not normally be labeled as such.

But it is Roth’s direction and inclusion of vivid imagery amongst a rather normal story that pushes Cabin Fever firmly into the world of horror.  The fact alone that “5 friends venture in the woods for a weekend getaway” is about as cliched horror as you can get.  And Roth would have no problem with me saying as much.  From the outset of Cabin Fever, writer and director Eli Roth was determined to make an “80’s horror film” that steered away from much of the PG-13 garbage that was taking the box-office by storm at the time.  Compromising on violence, over-the-top images, and nudity (although there is not much) was simply not going to happen and the final result is a horror movie that is much more enjoyable that it really should be.

Roth heavily borrows from legendary directors.  The influence of Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Wes Craven is unmistakable.  The movie attempts to be comedic throughout, but does not capture the same kind of iconic comedy-horror for which the Evil Dead series is so famous.  It could be argued that Cabin Fever also exists as a satire of the 80’s universe of campy horror, but again it doesn’t push that envelope.  It seems that this film is just a fun, gruesome, at times ridiculous horror movie about bad things that happen in the woods.  Perfect!

What I don’t understand is why Roth was so heavily applauded by his colleagues and some reviewers as the next great thing to happen to horror.  Perhaps Roth still will be a major force at the end of his career, but I have a hard time filing that conclusion away from this film.  His 2005 film Hostel was met with mixed reviews, currently holding a 59% rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

So, if you enjoy body horror, funny lines, cliched “go into the woods” setting, and a lot of fun, then I highly recommend Cabin Fever.  But don’t be expecting the next thought-provoking, mind-numbing horror flick.  It just aint that.

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Asylum – Review

Asylum –  Review

Mar 6, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by David Ellis, 2008

The idea that places can have memories is a powerful one.  We often hear of acts that are so awful, so unbelievable in their evil that it is easy to imagine them leaving a permanent impression on their physical surroundings.  Some great horror films have been based on this concept;  unfortunately, Asylum isn’t one of them.

Asylum is the story of Madison, a college freshman with considerable baggage.  When she was a young child, she witnessed her delusional father kill himself while battling imaginary foes.  More recently, her older brother has killed himself—at the very college she is now going to.    Those facts alone would make for a pretty rough freshman year, but then she arrives at her “dorm.”

Apparently, business is good at Richard Miller University because they have had to remodel an old mental hospital on campus and convert it into a co-ed dorm.  Well, they converted half of it.  The rest is left as is, connected only by a single door at the end of a dorm hallway.  A note: rarely in the history of film have establishing shots and interior shots looked more disconnected than they do here.  At no point did it feel like the action of the film was actually taking place in the buildings they were showing on the outside.  As a young kid, I did a short film that used the outside of our local hospital as an establishing shot and then cut to an interior shot that was just my bedroom with no attempt to make it look like a hospital room.  I got the exact same feeling watching Asylum, which is odd considering they apparently shot the film at a real university and presumably used the actual exteriors and interiors.

Back to the plot—we soon learn that bad things happened in the dorm/hospital in the past.  The doctor who was supposed to be helping troubled teens was actually mutilated and torturing them in order to “heal” them.  His spirit (though we are assured it is not a ghost at one point) still roams the building where he can “get inside” students heads and manipulate them.

Madison quickly hooks up with a bunch of students as troubled as she is, forming a perfect little group of victims for the evil doctor.  The problems exhibited by her new dorm mates read like a list of troubled-teen cliches.  Biff’s a drug addict.  Buffy’s boyfriend used to abuse her.  Brainy is so smart he is an outcast.  Rocky used to be fat and now is addicted to fitness.  Yes, I’m making those names up.  They should work as well as the real names for characters as flat, stereotypical and uninteresting as inhabit this film.

We are soon treated to a series of “dream” sequences as the evil doctor gets inside the heads of the co-eds, causing them to face their worse fears.  For entertainment’s sake, this is a good section to play a little game.  Pick a character, consider his or her psychological problem and then guess what the dream sequence will consist of.  If you are right, give yourself a cookie.  If you are wrong, you need to watch more horror films.  The only real surprise here is just how blatantly one of the scenes rips of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

As I saw how these sequences were going, I began to hope that when we got to the jerk with an eating disorder that we would get an homage to the scene with the walking pastries from Young Sherlock Holmes.  No such luck.  Just a fat mom yelling at her fat kid to clean his plate.

There are more cliches and rip offs of better movies as the film progresses and it culminates in one of the most overused cliches in all of modern horror—the releasing of the souls of the victims when the bad guy is killed.

Asylum isn’t just bad—it is depressingly so.  This is the point in the review where I usually point out a group of viewers who would like the film.  In this case, I’ll demure.  There are simply too many better options out there to make this film even worth a rental.

Click Here to purchase Asylum

Dead Meat – Review

Dead Meat – Review

Mar 5, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Conor McMahon, 2004

Dead Meat is an Irish horror film (Ireland makes horror films?) distributed in America by Fangoria/Gorezone distribution.  The movie is, essentially, a zombie movie about a heavily mutated strand of mad cow disease that begins turning human beings into mad, flesh eating cannibals.  I will say upfront that I enjoyed Dead Meat and was impressed with some very unique imagery in the midst of what is certainly a worn out sub-genre.   Yet, the film could have been so much more.

The story begins with a major nod to George Romero as a young couple, Helena and Martin, are in their car and literally run into a guy on the side of the road.  Come to find out, the guy has decaying skin and seems to be dead.  Before Helena and Martin can get the gentleman to a hospital, he comes alive and begins gnawing on Martin’s neck, leaving Helena to run off seeing help by herself.  She makes her way to a cottage where soon afterward, Martin attacks her, now in zombie mode himself.  She cleverly dispatches of Martin by attaching a vacuum tube to his eye and turning on the machine.  Fun.

Helena runs for her life and ends up bumping into Desmond, the shovel toting gravedigger (actually, he bumps into her and saves her from being run over by a car).  Desmond is one of the coolest characters I have seen in a while, making unbelievable use of a shovel and carving himself out almost as a superhero.  Together, the two try to find a way out of the danger, bumping into more and more zombies.  Finally, after a brief visit to Desmond’s home, they run into two more unaffected humans, Cathal and Francie.  Although reluctant at first, Cathal eventually gives Helena and Desmond a lift in their car (and a little girl named Lisa, but we won’t worry about her.  She doesn’t last long).  After their car gets stuck in the mud, they are forced to fend off all kinds of threats, including a cow!  The movie ends with Cathal and Desmond succumbing to the massive onslaught of zombies when they try to take cover in some old ruins.  Helena survives when a group of “zombie hunters” shows up.  She is placed in the back of a truck and crammed in with dozens of other survivors.  A wooden door is shut and the screams of the living, now trapped as if they were dead, are heard from inside as the truck starts down the road.

This movie almost needed to be sub-titled.  Obviously, set in Ireland, the characters are speaking English, but the accent is so strong that I had to strain to make out the dialogue.  The film perfectly captures the essence of what a stranded day in the middle of Ireland might look like, offering beautiful views of the Irish country side and portraying the varying shades of brown that we would expect for that geographic location.  This coupled with the staggering, quick movements of the walking dead create an eerie combination.  Dead Meat is simply a survival film, where the action starts immediately and does not relent until the end of the movie.  There are some great visual kills and the gore is plentiful.  Plus, McMahon offers some twists to the typical zombie themes, providing some neat ideas that I had never seen.  For example, at one point Helena and Desmond are terrified to see they are surrounded by zombies.  Yet, the undead never move in for the kill.  They realize that this particular group of zombie are asleep (standing up) and if they are quite enough, Helena and Desmond can simply walk past them unharmed.  Then, there is the incredible kill scene while the group is trapped in the car.  It is so wonderful that I dare not give it away here.

I also like how Dead Meat provides a solid and very believable source to the zombie infestation.  It is not a stretch at all to think that an outbreak of mad cow disease, which is not unusual in Ireland, could have devastating effects on humans.  Whereas most zombie films just ignore the cause of the infestation, Dead Meat tackles it head on, which is refreshing.

The film is certainly not without its problems.  First, the editing is mediocre at best.  Continuity is a problem with Dead Meat and it brings down the overall quality of the film just a notch.  Most of these issues seemed to be somewhat manageable in the editing room.  The action sequences would be great – great – great – then “ooh, that looked awful.”  Helena, at the beginning especially, seems to just be somewhat out of sorts that her boyfriend is now a rabid zombie trying to kill her.  The reactionary elements in Dead Meat may be the weakest part of the film.  Also, the soundtrack is sketchy, leaving the already difficult accents even more difficult to understand.

I enjoyed this film.  Coming in at only 1 hour 17 minutes, it is a quick and easy watch and worth every second of it.  If you like zombie and gore, then take a look.

Click Here to purchase Dead Meat