Friday, August 26, 2016

Horror Film Review

The Vatican Tapes (2015):  I was thinking to myself just the other day that what this world needs is more exorcism movies.  Because as you know, there haven't nearly been enough of the damn things.  There hasn't been a decent one since 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  So maybe The Vatican Tapes is decent, you muse.  It certainly had potential, that is until it went off rails, sideways, and became a hot mess in a dumpster fire.

We begin in Vatican City with Cardinal Bruun (John Andersson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) showing us numerous possessions via video while explaining in voices laden with doom how Satan will soon walk the earth.  Unless the Church can stop him.  Bruun, it seems, was possessed when he was 12 years old.  An exorcism saved him.  And so...

It's Angela's (Olivia Dudley) birthday.  Her Army colonel father Roger (Dougray Scott) says he can't make it but he and Angela's boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) conspire to surprise her.  Roger shows up, everyone's happy, then Angela starts feeling unwell and acting weird.  A big ass raven starts following her around.  Her goofiness lands her in a psych hospital where patients and staff inexplicably start hurting themselves and attacking others.  Family friend and priest Father Lozano (Michael Pena) finally recognizes that Angela isn't really Angela anymore and places a call to Italy.  Back at home with boyfriend Pete, dad Roger, and Father Lozano, Angela confronts the newly arrived Cardinal Bruun.  There's a bizarre deja vu moment when you swear you're watching The Exorcist at the part when Father Merrin and Father Karras first enter the house.  Oh, if only what happens next could have been even a tenth as good as what Merrin and Karras experienced.

I feel the need to spoil, so there's your warning.  Instead of reciting the Rite of Exorcism, Bruun simply screams at Angela and chokes her, demanding the demon show itself.  It says it's Satan and had possessed Bruun when he was 12.  Sure.  Why not.  Bruun fetches a few dozen feet of log chain from the car and they secure her to the bed.  He also fetched a fancy dagger, aiming to kill Angela.  Not much works out for Cardinal Bruun.  He dies, Angela/Satan suddenly becomes a supervillain from a Marvel movie and blasts half the house apart to escape.  Roger and Pete die in the blast. Father Lozano survives and rushes to meet with Vicar Imani at the Vatican.  They watch TV which shows Angela gaining global fame for miraculously healing the sick.  Then the two men of the cloth discuss the inevitable war between the warriors of God and Satan...who now walks the earth.  Pretending to be the messiah.  By doing messiah stuff.  Like it says in the Bible.  Get it?  Do ya?

Talk about putting too fine a point on it.  Beyond the overbaked denouement, nothing that happens after Angela leaves the loony bin makes half a lick of sense.  Up to that point, I was interested, engaged even.  A favorite expression of movie reviewers is that a film collapses under its own weight.  I've never used that particular expression.  I use it now.

The Skinny

Acting:  Michael Pena might have been on ludes when shooting this.  Way too mellow.  Dougray Scott contributes most of the necessary raw emotion as would be expected by a father.  Andersson goes overboard as Bruun.  Amedori as Pete is just right.  As for Dudley's Angela...I don't know.  Doesn't stand out either way.
Story:  Nothing even remotely new here.
Direction:  Pedantic.
Production Values:  The movie looks pretty good.  Budget was $8.5 million.  Nothing too fancy.
Gore/FX:  There could have been but there wasn't.  If only it had been rated R....
Scares:  What are those?
Ending:  Dumb.  Evil dumb.
Verdict:  Should you see The Vatican Tapes?  No.  You should not.  It was a waste of talent and money.  Go watch The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose again.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Horror Film Review

Crimson Peak (2015):  Gothic mayhem from master Guillermo del Toro that I'm pretty sure was meant to be scary.  All necessary elements were present:  an isolated English manor with a dark past, a overly charming Brit who seduces an unsuspecting heiress, and a number of gruesome ghosts lurking about that may or may not be evil fuckers.

I wrote that first paragraph three months ago, immediately following my viewing of the film.  For whatever reason, the review did not get finished.  I'll cut to the chase and eschew the usual Skinny simply because the details are now vague and it just wasn't very damn good.

The film was produced to within an inch of its life.  Visually, it's stunning, but it's form over function.  The story is goofy and boring and one we've seen many times.  Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe is, of course, worth watching.  Jessica Chastain as his sister Lucille chews on the scenery like a starving (and deranged) honey badger.  My favorite performance is Jim Beaver as Carter Cushing.  You know Jim from his gig as Bobby on the Supernatural TV show.  Cushing's daughter Edith (Mia Wasilkowska) is the focus of the Sharpe siblings' attention and has to be a moron.  So what's the scam?  Thomas seduces the daughters of rich guys to get their money to fund his contraption that's able to dig clay faster.  Exciting, no?  Yeah, no.  Don't get me wrong, there are ghosts involved and a few scenes in the creepy mansion aren't terrible, but ultimately the entire endeavor feels pointless.  The last thing you should feel when watching a horror flick is apathy.

I'm thinking of putting together a petition to force del Toro to make Hellboy 3 before he's allowed to helm any other project.  No doubt Ron Perlman would be first in line to sign.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Haunted House Update

I haven't posted an update of my house's paranormal activity for quite some time simply because there has been nothing to report.  Yeah, well, that's changed.  Why?  I got a new roommate.  And within days of his moving in, he began to experience all manner of crazy shit.  The interesting part is that it doesn't start until after I leave the house for work.  Even more interesting is that it's the same stuff I dealt with when I first moved in.  

He informed me that after I'm gone, it sounds like someone is trying to break in.  The front and back door knobs rattle, the screen doors bang, but there is no one there.  He checks every time.  He also hears someone with heavy footsteps walking around upstairs and then hears those footsteps trudge down the stairs.  Again, no one.  At first, he thought I'd come home from work early.  I had not.  He also hears people talking, random banging, and closed doors opening on their own.  Then there's the tiny attic access door upstairs.  It's in my bedroom.  During the tour when he first moved in, I showed it to him, had him peek at the crawlspace behind it (I think it's cool).  He did not think it was cool.  In fact, being near that door gives him a major case of the freaks.  He now avoids my room as if it were a TB ward.  

There's activity every day.  I gave him the digital voice recorder so he can try to document some of these sounds.  I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Horror Film Review

Maggie (2015):  Schwarzenegger battling zombies...what could possibly beat that?  Unfortunately, quite a lot.  That's not to say this is a crap movie, far from it.  It's just not wise-cracking, arsenal-toting Arnie in full on, kill fucking everything mode.  Think more Atticus Finch or Charles Ingalls than the Terminator.  And surprisingly, that's not a bad thing.  If you like gobs of soul-wrenching pathos, that is.

A viral outbreak has ravaged the nation.  Those infected sicken and eventually turn over a period of weeks.  New laws dictate that once the final symptoms appear, the afflicted must be taken to quarantine, a draconian setting in which excruciating euthanasia is the final solution.  Wade (Arnold), a poor farmer, travels to the big city (I think Kansas City) to retrieve his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) after a two week search.  Why was she there?  We're not told.  Unfortunately, she's been bitten and infected and therefore fucked.  He takes her home for her remaining days, which aren't many.  When a neighboring farmer breaks the law by keeping her turned family members locked up, Wade is forced to kill them after they escape.  The local cops then take the opportunity to remind Wade he can't do that with Maggie.  The family doctor advises Wade that the humane course of action is to put a bullet in her head.  This is not a Disney movie, folks.

Maggie gets worse, Wade agonizes, but in the end, she takes the decision regarding her fate out of his hands.  From the first act, we know she'll die.  Despite this non-spoiler, the final scene is still bursting with tension and dread.  You (or maybe just me) always think a they'll suddenly find a cure or some kind of miracle will prevent the inevitable.  That hope never once entered my mind.  I'm still not quite sure how I feel about that.

The Skinny

Acting:  Arguably Schwarzenegger's best performance...ever.  Seriously, the big guy is very, very good.  Breslin, as usual, knocks it out of the park.
Story:  The most personal zombie story I've even seen.  It's got the feel of the most heartbreaking Walking Dead script.
Direction:  This is not an action flick so some will bitch about the pacing.  To these people I say, shut up.
Production Values:  The budget was less than $10 million, ridiculously cheap given the star power involved.  Not one aspect of the production was cheap, though.
Gore/FX:  Folks in the final throes of the disease are pretty gross.  Not much blood.  No CGI to speak of.
Scares:  Yes, but not what you'd expect.
Ending:  What you'd expect.  Couldn't end any other way.
Verdict:  Should you see Maggie?  You should.  It's worth it for Arnold's portrayal of Wade alone.

Rating:  4 out of 5

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Horror Film Review

Attack of the Herbals (2011):  Scotland is a groovy country.  The highlands, William Wallace, haggis, Craig Ferguson...  Unfortunately, this grooviness does not extend to horror comedies.  The movie poster says "Hot Fuzz meets Shaun of the Dead."  As far as lies go, this one ranks up there with the Greeks saying, "Hey, let's be friends.  And here's a giant wooden horse to show how much we care."  The only similarity between this film and those two is that they were all made in the U.K.  As for the tag line, "Putting the 'tea' back in terror," that just makes no fucking sense at all.  Perhaps by now you've puzzled out that I'm not exactly a fan.  I shall explain why.

 It starts with Nazi doctors experimenting on a number of unwilling participants by force feeding them some kind of tea.  As the Allies close in, the remaining tea is packed into a huge crate and heaved off the end of a pier.  Flash forward to the present to big city failure Jackson (Calum Booth) grudgingly returning to his home village of Lobster Cove where no one except his grandparents and former mate Russell (Steve Worsley) are pleased to see him.  Needing quick cash to prevent greedy asshole Bennett (Liam Matheson) from taking over his grandparents' shop, Jackson and Russell decide to sell packets of herbal tea they found in a wooden crate that's washed ashore.  It's a splendid plan that works beautifully.  Except, that is, until the villagers begin to act a tiny bit strange.  By tiny, I mean a hell of a lot and by strange I mean psychotic and homicidal.  They discover too late the "tea" was the Nazis' failed attempt to create a super-soldier.  Oops.  So the town is a bloodbath with some creative and occasionally humorous killings.  The end, of course, involves a showdown between Jackson and Bennett.  By this time, I'd stopped caring and hoped they'd all die.

A great many problems this film has.  First of all, this "tea" looks like dog food or maybe twigs.  It's not leaves or a powder or anything I've ever seen before.  But Jackson and Russell automatically assume it should be brewed and drunk?  Sure.  Why not.  Another annoyance are the actions of Jackson's old Lobster Cove employer Danny (Lee Hutcheon) who didn't drink the tea and therefore is not batshit crazy.  Instead of simply waiting for the homicidal villagers to kill each other off (which they do with gusto), Danny wades into the melee with guns blazing.  It's pointless and silly.  Another irk is the suspiciously convenient presence of the local vicar, a silver-haired German named Adolf (Alan Fraser).  No, he's not meant to be Hitler.  He's just there to present the Nazi backstory and tell Jackson and Russell how stupid they are.  An unnecessary contrivance that falls flat.

One bright spot that actually made me laugh out loud involved the disabled town drunk in his wheelchair being chased by a psycho on one of those mobility scooters.  I can't explain why it's funny, though.  Probably better that way.

The Skinny

Acting:  Herein lies my biggest beef.  Worsley is the best of the lot as Russell but even he's not what you'd call stellar.  Surprisingly, the worst actor was cast in the leading role (Booth).  He must have owed the director money or something.
Story:  I admit the idea is unique.  The problem came when attempting to translate the idea into a workable script.
Direction:  Too much time is spent on Jackson's homecoming woes.  When the action finally gets cranking, it's oddly lethargic.
Production Values:  Shot for a little over twenty grand on the weekends with the actors all working for free.  Filming in Scottish villages lends it authenticity.  The sound and lighting don't suck.
Gore/FX:  The blood and gore, what there is of it, is cartoonish.  CGI fire and blood splatters may have been created on an Apple IIe.
Scares:  About as scary as a kitten sleeping on a pillow full of dandelions.
Ending:  Got on a boat and rowed away.
Verdict:  Should you see Attack of the Herbals?  Should the Trojans have pulled that giant wooden horse into their camp?  I'll say it again:  not like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead.  Hell, it's not even a zombie flick.  More like The Crazies...but bad.  If given a choice between watching this and eating haggis, go for the sheep's stomach.

Rating:  1 out of 5