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Maniac – Review

Maniac – Review

Nov 25, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by William Lustig, 1980

In their initial meeting about the film, director William Lustig instructed actress and the film’s protagonist Caroline Munro to “watch Halloween. . .this is how movies are being made now.”  Such a directorial instruction leaves little doubt to the film’s intentions and design.  And yet Maniac offers something quite different than its Halloween predecessor.

This 1980 slasher/splatter film is follows the life of Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) who is a lonely landlord and demented psychopathic killer.  His small apartment is furnished with mannequins who are adorned with real human hair from Zito’s female victims.  We learn that Frank has a serious problem with women and is unable to be around a female too long without going into a rage and killing her.  After the death, he scalps his victim and take their hair back to his place as a token of his accomplishment.  As the film progresses, we learn that Frank was physically abused by his prostitute mother and he is unable to ultimately discern between her face and the face of his victims.  In a rather chilling climatic scene, Frank hallucinates and believes all the mannequins in his apartment are coming to life to kill him.  The police find him dead the next morning.

On the surface, Maniac seems like a cheap, cheesy, typical 80’s slasher flick.  I suppose in some ways it lives up to that assessment.  But there is more to this movie than meets the eye.  First Joe Spinell delivers a weighty and memorable performance as Frank Zito.  The American-Italian demeanor works perfectly for this troubled soul who lives in the heart of New York City.  There are a couple of memorable scenes where Frank is describing his troubled childhood and they come across as sincere and truly motivational.  Unlike Halloween, we not only get to see what causes Frank to kill, but we grasp a sense of the darkest of human conditions; not being loved.  When Frank meets Anna (Caroline Munro) we see a different side of the serial killer and have momentary hope that things will change.  Those hopes are crushed as we watch Frank slip deeper and deeper into his psychosis.

The movie is also memorable for its gore.  One scene in particular portrays what is perhaps one of the most realistic and graphic deaths I have seen in horror.  It is the infamous “disco boy” death where a young Tom Savini gets his head blown off inside a car.  Frank jumps on the hood, points a shotgun through the windshield, and pulls the trigger.  It really has to be seen to be believed, the realism is simply incredible.

Although Maniac has moments of slowly moving along with the story, the psychological element of Frank mixed with some beautiful gore effects makes this a slasher film worth viewing.  I have heard rumors of a remake (big surprise) and will be interested to see how the actor who plays Frank (perhaps Elijah Wood?) deals with the delicate character of Frank Zito.

Hobo With A Shotgun – Review

Hobo With A Shotgun – Review

Oct 6, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Jason Eisener, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun is a Canadian horror exploitation film directed by Jason Eisener.  The film was originally a fake trailer to promote the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but due to popularity was transformed into a full-length picture.  The movie stars film legend Rutger Hauer.

The central theme of Hobo With A Shotgun is anything but original.  A small town called “Hope Town” is run by a greedy, sadistic villian known as “The Drake” and his two severely demented sons, Ivan and Slick.  I must admit to chuckling when I realized I had just partly described the plot to Roadhouse.  Anyway, the film opens with Slick and Ivan brutally killing The Drake’s brother to set an example to the town folk, who idly stand by and watch the carnage as if they were zombies who could care less.  After the decapitation of the brother, the towns people just slowly go back to their lives as if nothing had ever happened.  The hobo finally has enough when he witnesses Slick attempt to sexually assault and kill a girl in an arcade, prompting him to attack Slick and save the girl.  The hobo drags Slick to the local police station and demands to speak with the Sheriff.  Unfortunately, the Sheriff and the police are corrupt and eating out of The Drake’s hand.  The hobo is knifed and thrown out on the street.

Soon, the hobo meets up with Abby, the girl he saved from the hands of Slick, and she nurses him back to health in her small apartment.  The two become friends and decide to start a new life in a different city.  The can’t leave town fast enough, however, because Ivan and Slick show up to finish off Abby.  They severely injure Abby, but the hobo is able to save her and kill Slick.  What remains is a final showdown between the hobo, The Drake, and the town people who decide they have finally had enough.  The hobo sacrifices his life so that no one else will get hurt, taking down The Drake with him.  There is hope in Hope Town.

Hobo With A Shotgun has a very positive reputation among horror fans.  After hearing so much praise for the film, I was eager to experience this “instant classic” for myself.  I must admit to being somewhat disappointed.  The exploitation genre is a difficult one to master.  One the one hand, one must recognize that making broad and over-the-top statements about the underlying issue is a necessary component of exploitation.  On the other hand, a successful exploitation film understands how those sensationalist images adds to the story being presented and doesn’t turn on itself by simply seeking to shock the audience without any ongoing connection.  Anyone can put together a bunch of violent, gross scenes.  It takes talent to make them tell a compelling story.   At the end of the day, Hobo With A Shotgun is just too much violence with not enough story.  The story isn’t meant to be believable, but still yet, this story is really, really unbelievable.  There are still fun moments and interesting deaths, but overall I found myself somewhat bored with the “how crazy can we go” violence and mayhem.  Probably worth a viewing just for Hauer’s performance, but doesn’t live up to the hype.

The Hills Run Red – Review

The Hills Run Red – Review

Apr 20, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Dave Parker, 2009

I love slasher films.  The last few years have delivered a series of above average slasher flicks that, hopefully, will continue to spawn good, low-budget, old-school horror.  The Hills Run Red directed by Dave Parker would be on that list of good slasher movies.  Dave Parker is a relative unknown, especially as a director, but if this movie isn’t a home run, it is at least a triple.

The premise involves a movie called The Hills Run Red, an old slasher flick made in the hey-day of slasher-mania, the early 80’s, that has become the stuff of legend.  No one has ever seen the full length movie.  All that remains of the film is a teaser-trailer (done incredibly well) and a bunch of rumors about dead cast members and a missing director, named Concannon, who has not been seen since the movie was made.  One die-hard horror fan named Tyler is determined to track down the missing movie and lay to rest once and for the mystery behind the infamous The Hills Run Red.  After convincing two of his friends (one of whom becomes his ex-girlfriend) to join him on his documentary crusade, Tyler finds the daughter of Concannon in order to help him get moving in the right direction.  Concannon’s daughter, Alexa, was very young but present during much of the filming back in the 80’s.  She agrees to tag along.

You might can guess what happens.  They end up at the filming locations and, to their horror, the movie is real!  The serial killer named Babyface, a self-deformed monster who wears a baby mask, turns out to be Alexa’s son, not to mention Concannon’s son.  Yep, we have some good-ol’ back woods incest going on here, not to mention the “luring” of the friends into the danger by Alexa.  Come to find out, the reason no one has seen The Hills Run Red is because it is still being filmed, with actual victims!  From there, the carnage goes off the charts.

The final 30 minutes of The Hills Run Red are, unfortunately, the weakest of the movie.  Even though we get to experience the blood-soaked saga of Babyface up close and personal, much of the action seems forced, as if director Dave Parker had to keep thinking of ways to get the victims into torturous situations.  The “turning” of Alexa on her friends did not come as a big surprise and the final thrust of the film seems to fall a bit short.  But I didn’t care.  The set up of the movie was wonderful and engaging.  By the time we get to the hardcore stuff, I was more than willing to overlook some of the deficiencies and enjoy the gore for what it was.  At times, Babyface is downright hilarious.  He literally pulls an Indiana Jones move at one point – an eventual victim starts waving flares at Babyface deep in the woods and screaming “COME ON!  LET’S GO!”  Instead of using his brute strength by killing the victim with an ax, Babyface simply whips out a gun and blows the guy away.  That moment was worthy of 3 times being rewound.

The film may be trying to say something about our obsessions getting the better of us, but I doubt it.  This is fun, scary at moments, gory at moments, and worth the time to watch.  If you are a slasher fan, then The Hills Run Red should be on your list.

Click Here to Purchase The Hills Run Red

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.

Click Here to purchase Cabin Fever

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

Hatchet 2 – Review

Hatchet 2 – Review

Feb 22, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Adam Green, 2010

Hatchet 2 begins the action immediately where the first film ended with Marybeth (Danielle Harris) in the boat being attacked by Victor Crowley.  She manages to escape by being helped out of the water by Jack Cracker and is taken to his cabin in the midst of the swamp.  While there, Marybeth begins to learn more about the lurid history of Victor Crowley and how her family played a pivotal role in his death.  After being kicked out of Jack Cracker’s cabin (after he learns who she really is), she makes her way to Reverend Zombie’s voodoo shop (portrayed by Tony Todd) where she demands to learn the full truth of her past and Victor Crowley.   Come to find out, Marybeth’s father was one of the three kids who set fire to the cabin when Victor was a boy that ultimately brought about his death.  Marybeth is determined to go back to the swamp and bring her father and brother back so she can bury them and, if necessary, kill Victor Crowley once and for all.  She pleads with Zombie to help her and after a moment of hesitation, he agrees.  However, he first makes Marybeth bring along her uncle and also convenes a group of hunters and guides for the trip.

Well, from this point on Hatchet 2 delivers what you would expect.  A bunch of people being killed in the swamp by a ticked off bad guy.  We eventually learn that Marybeth’s uncle and one of the hunters named Trent were the other two kids who set fire to Crowley’s place.  Zombie believes that if Victor kills all three of his murderers, he will have his revenge and will disappear.  He believes his plan worked perfectly after watching “Uncle Bob” meet his demise.  However, once Marybeth catches on to Zombie’s intentions, she enlightens him to the truth; Uncle Bob was actually just a friend – her real uncle died when she was 12 from leukemia.  Uh oh.  That means Victor is still alive and finally comes after Zombie himself.  The film ends with Marybeth using Victor’s own hatchet against him, slashing him at least 20 times and then sealing the deal with a shotgun blast to the face.

I walked away from Hatchet 2 feeling much the say way I did about the original film; this was fun, gory, campy, and totally predictable.  I mentioned in my review of Hatchet that Adam Green was not necessarily trying to break new ground with his movie but was attempting to take a tried and true formula and do it well.  I feel the same way about Hatchet 2.  It is nice to see Danielle Harris of Halloween fame take over the role of Marybeth and amazingly, much of her mannerisms and tone still reflect the scared little “Jamie” from Halloween 4 and 5. Having said that, Tamara Feldman, who portrayed Marybeth in the original film, did a better job with the character than did Danielle Harris.  Harris is a horror legend because of her involvement in the Halloween franchise, but she is not a very good actor and leaves the film feeling very amateurish.

Concerning the direction offered by Adam Green, I just can’t figure this guy out.  He has moments of beauty where all the actors and the action seem to be in the  perfect place, followed by several minutes of sloppiness that scream “movie college” quality.  He continues to pay homage to classic movies of old, perhaps the most obvious being the very ending.  As Marybeth is chopping away at Victor, she repeats “die” several times, linking the ending of Hatchet 2 to the classic Corey Feldman ending of Friday the 13th part 4.

The gore is bountiful and executed well, with perhaps the best kill scene in the movie coming at the very beginning with the death of Jack Cracker.  His intestines are ripped from his body and as he tries to crawl away, he is pulled back by his innards.  Then, Victor wraps his intestines around his throat and chokes him until Cracker’s head explodes.

But it is the story itself that falls away and never comes back.  The mythology of Crowley is repeated time and again throughout the film, even with a pointless summation by Zombie at the end to make sure we all “get it.”  It seems that Adam Green wanted to take his story a bit more seriously this time around and whereas the original movie was a jolly mixture of laughs and gore, Hatchet 2 doesn’t know if it wants to be funny or serious.  Unfortunately, Green opted for the latter a bit too much and we are left longing for the overall feel of the original.

I was disappointed in this second installment.  Green initially said he was going to make 4 Hatchet movies.  After the release of this installment, he retracted his statement.  It could very well be that we have not seen the last of Victor Crowley, but we might have seen the last of him being directed by Adam Green.

Click Here to purchase Hatchet 2