9.01.2014

A Force of One


1979
Directed by: Paul Aaron
Category: Action

I love Chuck Norris. But when I try to put my finger on why exactly, for me I think it's more of the idea of Chuck Norris rather than his actual films. Let's face it, Chuck has made a ton of films, but how many of them are actually any good? Personally speaking, I can count 5. And if you want to dig a little deeper, the 3-year period beginning with 1983 and ending in 1986 is the cream of the crop as far as good Chuck Norris films go.

Which brings us to A Force of One, released in 1979. Notice this doesn't fall into that 3-year time frame? Yes, unfortunately as much as I wanted to enjoy this, it just didn't really do anything for me. Not a bad film in the least, it just doesn't offer anything in the way of substance. Director Paul Aaron handles the material well enough, and the film, taking place in the late 70's, oozes a cool Dirty Harry look and vibe made all the more striking by Dick Halligan's bomb awesome hard-hitting score, but not a lot actually happens, and if you go in expecting some action, or even some martial arts (as the poster and title imply), you'll be sorely disappointed.

One by one, members of an undercover police force are being killed by a martial artist. When they ask for the help of a local martial arts instructor (Chuck Norris) in teaching them self-defense techniques, he unwittingly becomes involved in a plot that's much bigger than he could have imagined. 

You know, I'm not going to beat up on this film too much, because all in all, it's a well made film. It was just kind of dull and when you go in expecting to see a Chuck Norris film about a guy who's a "Force of One", pummeling baddies left and right and what you get instead is something that resembles more of a made-for-TV movie, well you just kind of end up being bummed out.

On the surface, there's a lot to admire about this film. Some of the fight editing notwithstanding, it's a good looking film with some solid camera work, a tough score backed up by some killer horns, and Chuck looking super fly to the max with some funky wardrobe, though I'm still not used to seeing him with only a mustache; I think the beard look works better for him. The supporting cast in here is actually rather impressive, with stars like Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead), Ron O'Neal (Superfly), Jennifer O'Neill (Scanners) providing strong support to an otherwise mediocre affair.

And that's the main problem with A Force of One. Everything is extremely tame and mediocre. For a film that makes you think you're going to see a lot of martial arts, there's really not much of that in here. And when there is, it's mainly Norris practicing in his dojo, or in the ring. Outside of that, there are a few small fights here and there, but nothing that gets you excited and it's all very colorless. I don't even recall any blood......ever. And as with any martial arts or action film, you come to expect some actual action, yet save for a car chase, and the aforementioned uninspired fights, there's not a whole lot of anything remotely considered an action sequence in here. Like I said before, it all has a made-for-TV feel. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't even recall any swearing! Shit, maybe this was intended as a movie-of-the-week after all?

If you're looking for a Chuck Norris fix, this one isn't going to do it for you. Until I somehow discover a lost gem that I haven't yet seen, your best bet is just to revisit Chuck at his best, which would be Lone Wolf McQuade or Invasion USA.


8.30.2014

Hatchet III



2013
Directed by: BJ McDonnell
Category: Horror

So now we've come full circle. In case you need a recap, here's a quick one. I only recently discovered Adam Green's wonderfully bloody homage to classic 80's slasher films trilogy known as the Hatchet films. I may even be one of the few horror fans who hasn't seen these yet, that is until now. Hatchet, the first film in the series blew me away by it's hugely spirited take on the genre, reminding us why we loved those types of films in the first place, especially if you are a 30 something who grew up a teenager in the 80's. Hatchet II, while a solid straight-up horror film, took a more serious approach, while still offering some insane over-the-top gore. While not as enjoyable as the first film, it was a very solid effort and still a much better horror film than most that come out these days. Which now brings us to Hatchet III.

Picking up minutes after the events of Hatchet II, Marybeth is arrested and blamed for the bloodbath that took place in the swamp. With the help of a local hack reporter, she soon uncovers the truth about Victor Crowley's curse and together, must try and come up with a way to stop Victor Crowley for good. 

Right off the bat I'm going to tell ya that Hatchet III was a far superior film than Hatchet II. While it again doesn't possess the cleverness and tongue-in-cheek humor of the first film, it's a much stronger and better film because this time around, creator/writer/director Adam Green has handed over the directing duties to his longtime cameraman BJ McDonnell, and boy what a difference that makes. While I can certainly appreciate what Green has done with bringing this franchise to life and keeping it old-school, I've never considered him a strong visual director either. I think Hatchet II drove that point home for me. But by hiring his trusting camera operator to direct this time around is a blessing in disguise because it's apparent right from the opening frame that McDonnell has a strong visual eye and that we're in for a much more stylish take on Hatchet than the two previous films.

You're probably wondering how the fuck Victor Crowley can come back from the dead after watching what Marybeth did to the guy's head at the end of Hatchet II. Even I was curious. Well, apparently the Crowley curse is the reason he's able to recover rather quickly from certain death no matter how you kill him. I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think the whole "curse" thing was mentioned in the previous films. But it's a nice touch because as it allows him to regenerate every single day, he can return to doing what he does best, and that's killing Victor Crowley style! This curse is also the driving force behind the story this time around as Marybeth teams up with the reporter to try and put an end to it, thus ensuring that Crowley does in fact stay dead.

Much like with Hatchet II, this film again takes a more serious approach to the material, and you know, it works for me. Only this time around things move at a much more frantic pace, which keeps the film moving along rather nicely. I don't know about you, but I found the second film to be somewhat lacking in several departments, with it's pace being one of them. Scream queen Danielle Harris again returns in the role of Marybeth, much to my disdain, and somehow manages to comes off as a much bigger bitch than she was in the last film. It's true. And let me clarify, I like Danielle Harris as an actress. I think she's great. I think in the case of the Hatchet films though, it's just how her character is written and let me tell you, I can't make sense of a lot of her behavior in this entry. Like, I thought her whole purpose was to find her missing father and brother, but when she finally learns of their demise, it seems that she's just hellbent on being as difficult and uncooperative as possible from then on. It just doesn't make sense, because I would think that she would want some kind of revenge or what-have-you, but all she ends up really doing is being a pain in the ass for everyone and refusing to help in any way. But hey, that's just my opinion.

 One of the things I love about Adam Green is that he infuses his films with a plethora of cameo's, as does Rob Zombie, and his casting is always genius, and this film is no exception. In this entry, we're introduced to quite a few new characters, all played by horror icons. First off, Zach Galligan (Gremlins 1 & 2) plays the local sheriff. Caroline Williams (Stretch from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) enters the picture as a reporter struggling with not being taken seriously, who thinks the legend of Victor Crowley is true and with the help of Marybeth, can finally get the story of her career. Sid Haig (The Devils Rejects) makes a small cameo as a racist bigot. And my personal favorite, Derek Mears (Friday the 13th-2009) plays the head of a swat team who leads the charge into the swamp for a search and recover effort until Victor Crowley decides otherwise. And then you have Danielle Harris returning to the role of Marybeth and of course, the one and only Kane Hodder as Victor Crowley.

Jason vs. Jason, eerr, I mean Kane Hodder vs. Derek Mears
While it was great seeing Zach Galligan on screen again, for me personally, the casting of Derek Mears can only be described as exhilarating for me. You see, if you don't already know, he played Jason Voorhees in the criminally underrated Friday the 13th reboot - a great old-fashioned slasher film if you ask me. And so here you have two Jason's in the same film, which only gets more awesome when they finally go toe-to-toe in a fight and much like the experience of watching Candyman and Victor Crowley/Jason fight in Hatchet II, it's a total geekasm, because as we all know, Kane Hodder is everyone's favorite Jason Voorhees. So here you have two titans who have both played Jason Voorhees battling it out and it's just fucking epic. Pure glee is the only way I can describe watching this and so thank you Adam Green. Thank you for understanding what it means to blow the minds of geek horror fanatics.

While the overall tones change from one film to the next, two things that do not change is Green's insistence on no CGI, and most importantly, insane, bloody, over-the-top kills. I still can't get over Reverend Zombie's (Tony Todd) death from Hatchet II! How insane and badass was that?! As we move into Hatchet III, one thing remains constant and that is that the gore content is pure. Let's be real for a second. How many films in a series can deliver the level of brutality for 3 straight films all relying on the most inventive, innovative kills ever to grace the screen, only to one-up themselves with each successive film? I can't think of any, can you? But these Hatchet films deliver on that promise wholeheartedly.

One thing you may have noticed in Hatchet II is that Victor Crowley's makeup looked different. Again in this film, the makeup department takes a different and slightly fresh approach to his look, making him bigger, bulkier and much more gruesome overall. It's a much more exaggerated take on the characters look compared to the first film, as if each film becomes more and more brutal, so does the look of Victor Crowley. While we're on the subject, Aunt Dolly's Garage again returns for makeup/special effects duties and again deliver a standout and amazing body of old-school practical effects work.

Aesthetically, Hatchet III is a much more visually streamlined looking film, and that is due to BJ McDonnell as director. I have to admit, I can't remember the last time I'd recently seen a better shot horror film. It's rather impressive and for me, that's what stands out more than anything. I think Hatchet creator Adam Green is a solid director in his own right, with the first film demonstrating his strongest skill at directing. When he returned for Hatchet II, it felt much more "anything goes", and while he never goes the shaky-cam route, he does shoot the entire film with a steadicam, so for someone who likes a little style with their substance, like myself, I wasn't really a fan of the visual tone of the second one. However, McDonnell seemed determined to end the trilogy on a high note, because from a technical and visual standpoint, Hatchet III is just awesome. Imploring much more streamlined and stylish camerawork, Hatchet III aesthetically blows the other films out of the water, there's just no denying that. Which is interesting considering director BJ McDonnell was originally the steadicam operator for the first two Hatchet films. So you kind of assume he's just going to do all steadicam stuff then because, well, that's his specialty. Apparently not. McDonnell did his homework, and despite reports that the production on this film was put under awful and intense conditions (at one time Hodder himself proclaiming it was the toughest job he'd ever done) having shot the film in an actual New Orleans swamp for the first time and not in California, it ultimately ends up being the most stylish of the bunch and the most aesthetically pleasing. Trust me, there are some pretty killer shots in this film. Combined with some impressive lighting and of course, more over-the-top kills and gore, Hatchet III is the perfect ending to an incredible trilogy

8.29.2014

8 Bit Jason Voorhees Toys R Us Exclusive. Please Help!


Okay, so this is the first time I've ever done this and I know, it's kinda lame but hey, drastic times cause for drastic measures. Being a collector, every so often a line of figures or collectibles come out that gets me really excited and reminds me why I never gave up collecting figures in the first place.

When NECA started their line of 8 Bit figures based on classic video games, I found my new favorite line. With these figures, NECA went above and beyond to create something that caters to the nerd/geek in all of us, especially if you're in your 30's and grew up in the 80's playing these original NES video games. Dude, even the packaging is stellar. If you want to get caught up in their growing line of these badass figures, check out my post about them HERE.

But back to my point. I recently learned that Toys R Us and NECA would be releasing this Jason 8 Bit figure, a variation of the very first figure in their line (The SDCC Exclusive), and the most sought after. This new figure resembles more of the MEGO dolls of the 70's, and well you can only imagine my excitement at learning of this figure/doll's release.

But there's a problem. I live 36 miles away from the nearest Toys R Us. So driving to and from their location is not an option for me because flippers have most certainly snagged them all by now, which would make it a wasted trip, especially considering how much gas is these days. So that's my dilemma. Next to the 8 Bit figures and the Michael Keaton 18 inch doll NECA has released, I can't remember the last time I've been so excited for something.

So I was wondering if any of you are collectors also, and if you frequent your local Toys R Us on a regular basis. If you do, I was hoping that maybe one of you would find it in your heart of hearts to pick one up for  me and ship it? I'd be happy to pay whatever the asking price from Toys R Us plus shipping would be. I have a paypal account and would be happy to send the funds ASAP. But I refuse to pay the ridiculous fee's flippers are asking for, which currently is anywhere from $50-$75. Ridiculous! If anyone is willing to help a brother out, I'd be most obliged and insanely grateful. Please post a comment if anyone out there can help. Thanks!

.jason

UPDATE:
Through several outlets via Facebook, I was informed that Toys R Us had finally put a number of these exclusives on their website on Friday, Sept. 29th. Knowing how hot this release was and how flippers have been raping collectors with ridiculous prices, I knew it wouldn't be long before they sold out, which they did in just a few hours, but not before I was able to snag one for myself. Sometimes the stars align and the universe throws me a bone from time to time. Thanks to anybody who took the time to try to find one of these for me. 

.jason

8.27.2014

Low-Budget Horror: Satan's Little Helper


2004
Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Category: Horror

From time to time, you come across a film that you know is going to be of low quality. Sometimes it's in the title, or the cover art, or just in the fact that there's not a single name in the cast or crew that you recognize. Shit, sometimes it's all of the above, as is the case with this film. With Satan's Little Helper however, let's face it, it's got some cool cover art. You're intrigued, right? Only problem is that the misleading cover art is the only thing this terrible little bland excuse for a horror film has going for it. It's also not an accurate representation of what the character actually looks like in the film.

I'll be honest, I had high hopes for this one. Sure it's a ridiculous concept, but a lot of fun can be had if it's done creatively. Such was the case with the totally unexpected surprise Stitches. If you're committed to the fact that it's a ridiculous premise and utilize that to your full advantage, you can have a lot of fun; there are a plethora of ways to use that gimmick and just run with it. And if you have some actual talent behind the camera, well that always helps. Again, Stitches is a testament to that concept. Does Satan's Little Helper fall into the same category?

Heeeeeell no! I'm not sure how the hell I came upon this title, because I know I did recently on some list of horror films. When I saw it pop up streaming on Netflix recently, I jumped on it. I can only assume I heard about it from a list of underrated Halloween themed horror films? But there's just no way that this could end up on anybody's list of any type, unless it was a list of garbage because this film was so bad on so many levels. And you know, I love bad films too. I don't discriminate. Sometimes they're so bad that they actually end up enjoyable. It happens more times than it probably should. But that's not what we have here. I think writer/director Jeff Lieberman intentionally set out to make a legitimate horror film, but you know, it's nothing short of a train-wreck. And not even a brilliant one. As we all know, train-wrecks are fun. Samurai Cop, The Visitor, Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Brilliant train-wrecks and I love the shit out of them. What we have here instead is a film that's so bad in literally every department, instead of basking in it's ineptness or lack of cleverness, all you end up feeling is annoyed. 

A serial killer in a Halloween costume is going around murdering people on Halloween night. When a naive kid, who's obsessed with a video game called Satan's Little Helper, encounters this killer and mistakes him for the make-believe character of the video game, he thinks they're playing a game and unsuspectingly helps the killer in his killing spree.

Everything about this film is terrible, the look, the direction, the acting, the pacing, the set-up, the production. Yet, all those things can be forgiven if the film itself was at least enjoyable in certain areas, say for example with some awesome gore/effects work/kills. Nope. None of that here. That's a real shame too because if it had at least offered some decent practical or over the top makeup effects, then it might  have been passable. In fact, that was the only reason I even stuck it through to the end, in the hopes that maybe the last act would end in some sort of blood-bath that would maybe somehow make up for the rest of this lackluster effort. No such luck here. In fact, there was only 1 single kill that implored any type of actual makeup effects and it was nowhere near the level of quality we've come to expect these days, even from low-budget horror films. 

I think this film will go down in history as one of the best examples of stupidity ever to grace the screen. Every action, reaction, and decision that every single character makes in this film is the absolute worst one. And if it's not a bad decision, then it's an incredibly STUPID decision. That's not even an exaggeration. You'll be floored by the amount of insanely inept decision-making these characters are able to muster up on a minute-by-minute basis. You even begin to wonder if this is on purpose. That maybe writer/director Jeff Lieberman thought he was being clever by throwing every single bit of horror cliche'd stupid decision making that's ever been done. Like maaaaybe it's a tongue-in-cheek wink to the audience. It's not. It's just bad writing and that all falls onto Lieberman's shoulders. Has he only ever seen bad horror films, because he certainly couldn't write a decent line of dialogue, or even anything that marginally resembles any logical thinking. Nothing is plausible. Stupidity is the only word I can think of in trying to describe the actions of every single character in this film. It's maddening! You literally scream and hurl obscenities at the television screen in frustration because there's really nothing else you can do.

Image courtesy of Moviepilot.com


Here's a minor examples. There's a scene where the family of the boy is in the house and the older sister of the boy keeps telling the mother that the guy in the weird costume is not her actual boyfriend like she had thought for like most of the film, even though she could easily have just made him take that stupid mask off, but nooooooooo, this film doesn't follow logic that way. So she keeps trying to tell her mother that it's not the boyfriend in the costume, who also tried to sexually assault her just a few minutes before, which she seems to have inexplicably forgotten about since she's not mad anymore, and they need to leave. But of course, the mother doesn't believe her. Then suddenly the killer appears from one of the rooms, stabs the father repeatedly, pulls out his intestines and ties them to a chair nearby. Why? I have no fucking idea. And the family is just standing there in shock, screaming. The killer calmly turns around and walks back into the room from which he came from. Still, the family does not run away. They just sit there crying. The sister eventually runs into the kitchen to call for help while she leaves the mother still sitting in the dining room in shock. Why wouldn't they just leave and get to safety to call for help? I'm glad you asked. That's a very good question. I don't know. I'm not one to lay labels down on people, because who am I to judge anyone? But I can only describe everyone in this as retarded. And while I know it's not exactly PC to say that, it's really the only word that comes to mind.

So of course when the sister comes back from attempting to call for help using the kitchen phone, her mother is gone. Surprised? All the while the incredibly stupid little brother keeps saying "I'm sorry! I thought it was a game!". For real, this kid is seriously stupid. He literally hand fed the killer multiple victims all the while somehow thinking it was all just a "game". The fuck??? So here the killer has killed the dad who hasn't been seen for the entire film and just suddenly appears for this brief scene, only to be killed immediately. And instead of taking her kids and running out of the house to safety, they all just stand there crying. And that whole bit with the intestines being pulled out of the dads body and tied to a chair? It sounds much more awesome than it actually is. And unfortunately, that's the one and only gory kill in the entire film.

This kid. A lot can be said about this kids incompetence at......well anything. Though I'm assuming he's supposed to be just an average and insanely naive 11 year old who's obsessed with a violent video game and then unsuspectingly helps a killer plan and execute multiple murders, he ultimately comes off more of a kid who must have some serious mental challenges because even at 11, no normal kid would be this stupid and gullible. He's just incredibly stupid and worst of all, weird. No sane average kid thinks or acts the way he does in the real world, or even in shitty low-budget horror films. I have an 11 year old son, and I can guarantee you that even he isn't this gullible or stupid. I'm not even going to bother getting into the weird relationship he has with his beautiful older sister, which I might add is what starts this whole murder spree to begin with. You see, when he comes across this killer actually placing a dead body on a porch, his first thought is "Hey, can you come kill my sisters new super nice boyfriend because I'm jealous for no reason?". Even though he thinks it's all a game (Huh?), it's moronic and the kid only gets worse and worse coming off as just dim-witted and overly unintelligent.......even by 11 year old's standards.

The thing with this film is that it's so hard to tell what kind of film Jeff Lieberman was trying to make. I think a horror film, but I can't be 100% certain, because the plot is so utterly ridiculous and the way these characters go about doing even the most mundane things and fucking it all up at every turn leads you to believe that maybe he knew how silly all this was and was just trying to have fun with it? Yet it's not fun, or funny, not even in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. And if he did know how silly this all was, he's terrible at even executing that kind of film because it's all played straight and it just sucks in every way. Everything is terrible with not one single redeeming quality.

So as I mentioned before, I decided to tough it out and see it through to the end because maybe in some alternate universe that somehow broke through into ours, the ending might be kinda badass. If anything, I just wanted to also see who the heck the killer was because he's in costume for the entire film. No such luck. They leave you hanging and just like with the rest of the film, it's infuriating. I don't know if writer/director Jeff Lieberman thought he was being clever by doing this, but it's not. It's really just the icing on the cake in terms of how much this film can possibly piss you off. Not to mention they literally point out who the killer might actually be several times, but does Lieberman follow through with that? Of course not. That would be too easy.

It's no real surprise that this films writer and director has only worked on one other project after this. I can only say, "Hallelujah for that!". The only reason I would possibly recommend this to anybody is to bash the shit out of it with a group of friends for movie night over some drinks. In fact, now that I think about it, this would make a great addition to RiffTrax.

While your at it, please take a moment to check out Jenny's House of Horror's take on this film HERE. We are on the same page with this one.


8.23.2014

The First Power hits Blu-ray!!

How on Earth was I not aware of this films impending Blu-ray release? 
I love this film, as silly and ridiculous as it is. Having not seen it since it's initial release, I revisited it some time back and let me tell you, I loved the shit out of it. For all that it's lacking in originality, it seriously makes up for in it's execution. I'm not aware of anything else writer/director Robert Resnikoff has done, but personally I feel he killed it with The First Power. It's a hard-edged detective thriller with some supernatural overtones, with solid performances by Phillips and the one and only Jeff Kober as an unstoppable serial killer. Oh, and one of the things that surprised me the most, it's got some badass and killer stunt work.

It looks like it's set to hit the streets on October 7th, in a single disc Blu-ray. To date, no special features are available, and for all we know, there might not even be any to speak of, which would be a shame since part of the reason I love buying new releases of older films is the Special Features. But that's just me.

What we do get is a widescreen transfer. That's it. Amazon has a listing price of $27.98, which is pretty steep if you ask me, especially considering there are no supplemental material to speak of. Unless this goes down at some point, I'll be waiting for the used market before I end up grabbing this one. I mean, I like this film, but not enough to shell out $30 for a bare-bones Blu-ray.

If you're interested in my original thoughts on this when I revisited way back in June of 2012, you can follow the link below.
http://robotgeekscultcinema.blogspot.com/2012/06/review-first-power.html

8.22.2014

Hatchet II


2010
Directed by: Adam Green
Category: Horror

Recently discovering the Hatchet franchise has been one of the best film highlights in years for me. If you know anything about me, then you know my love for old school horror is huge. I grew up on the stuff, so even though I have just as big a crush on macho action movies and science fiction, horror will always be in my DNA. So to come across a series that prides itself on being a throwback to these 80's horror films that I grew up watching and love so much, well it makes me all giddy inside.

Adam Green's original Hatchet floored me. In a world of over-CGI'd crap, his insistence on CGI-less effects and gore was a breath of fresh air. His first film in the series was just the right amount of fun, scares, insane over the top kills and practical effects wizardry that made these films in their heyday so much fun. In 2010, he released his first sequel, again as writer and director. But this time around there have been some changes made.

Picking up minutes after the events of the first film, Marybeth implores the help of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) to lead an expedition back into the swamp to help find her missing father and brother. Reverend Zombie, however, has an agenda all his own, and it involves Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).

Hatchet II is a drastically different type of horror film than the first one, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Almost immediately, you'll notice that this is more of a serious straight-forward approach compared to the fun vibe the first Hatchet had going. While a few funny bits sneak in here and there, this is a much more serious take on the material. Another thing you'll notice is the quality of the film. While the first Hatchet had more of a professional sheen and quality, this first sequel actually looks more of a low-budget affair than the original, which is odd since Will Barratt was the same Cinematographer on all 3 Hatchet films. That could very well be because of the camera's they used though, but I'm not entirely sure. But that doesn't reflect the practical effects work though, which is again top notch and the reason we watch these films in the first place. Tony Todd, who had a small cameo in the first film as Reverend Zombie, again returns as the questionable and sinister character, only this time he's front and center and hamming it up in glory fashion. The lead character of Marybeth has also been recast, with horror icon Danielle Harris now starring in the franchise as the heroine. And while special makeup effects master John Carl Buechler does return in the role of Jack Cracker, and a much bigger part I might add, he's not doing the effects work this time around. That task fell to the folks over at Aunt Dolly's Garage. And you know what? Buechler is not a bad actor at all.



Cult icon Tony Todd (Candyman, Night of the Living Dead), this time in more of a starring role, was just fantastic and such a huge presence on screen. But it's funny because sometimes he spoke with a Jamaican accent, and sometimes he didn't. So you never really know if that was on purpose, to show you that the character is in fact a phony, or if it was by accident, showing us that perhaps Todd isn't very good at doing accents. Either way, next to Kane Hodder again delivering the goods as Victor Crowley, Tony Todd knocked his portrayal of the enigmatic Reverend Zombie out of the park. His delivery, while quite hammy, is without a doubt the best performance in here.

As far as straight-up slashers go, Hatchet II delivers the goods. It's an often-times tense filled orgy of creative kills one after another, with some outstanding practical effects work. But I didn't love it as much as I did the first film, and here's why. While Hatchet was full of spirit, mixing just the right amount of laughs, lightheartedness and horror, this sequel feels more like a run-of-the-mill effort, nixing a lot of the heart that went into the first film, for more of a serious approach. And you know, that's all fine and well if you know this going in. But after coming off of writer/director Adam Green's insanely entertaining homage/throwback original, this feels more or less of a letdown in comparison. And I know, you can argue that sequels rarely live up to the original, which is sometimes true, but not always. There are a ton of sequels that can and do actually top the original in many ways, but Hatchet II is not one of them.

Another issue I had was the casting of Danielle Harris in the role of Marybeth. Not sure what the deal was with recasting that role, but even though Harris is a great actress and one of the biggest scream queen's we have working in film today, I actually preferred the original actress in the role, Tamara Feldman. I can't put my finger on it, but Harris just didn't fit, and though I'd never seen the girl who played her in the first film before, I actually thought she was a much better fit. And not only that, was I the only one who found Harris annoying? It's odd, since I actually like her as an actress. But somehow in some way, she came off as incredibly unlikable. Am I alone in thinking this?

One of the great things Green does with these Hatchet films is he fills them with a who's who of the horror community. So I've already mentioned that effects legend John Carl Buechler returns in the role of Jack Cracker. But another horror legend, writer/director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Psycho II, Child's Play) also has a role in this. And if you're a fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise like I am, you'll surely recognize the name of R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), who played ol' Leatherface in Chainsaw III, but is virtually unrecognizable in this. And then you've got Tony Todd, Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder. Adam Green knows how to put some smiles on our geek horror faces, doesn't he?

* Minor Spoilers
There was a moment, where Candyman and Jason were fighting, and it was like my geek horror brain almost melted. I'm sitting here freaking out over the fact that I'm seeing Candyman (Tony Todd) go head to head with Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder-Jason) and it was almost too much to comprehend. And that's why I love these movies so much, because Adam Green knows what we love and knows what we want to see. I mean, who would've thought they'd ever see this? And the kill was nothing short of ...............brilliant. I don't think I've actually ever seen that particular kill, which was awesome! I wish this film had more geek-out moments like that, or that the fight itself would have been a little more outrageous, because here you have two horror titans battling it out, something we'd never thought we'd see. But you can't have everything, right?
* End Spoilers

My final thoughts are that while nowhere near as fun or spirited as the first Hatchet, it's still a well-made and enjoyable slasher film with a more serious and darker tone. In fact, while it didn't floor me the way the first one did, it's still leaps and bounds better than most horror films you see today, and for that, I love and commend what Adam Green has done with this franchise. Hatchet II again displays some insane kills, gore and impressive practical effects work that make you question why filmmakers and studios insist on CGI over practical effects work these days. Yea, I know the answer is that it's just cheaper that way, but still. While Green's direction seemed generally lacking in terms of style this time around, it's a minor complaint when you compare it to the overall entertainment value. It's a good sequel to a great film. It just won't knock your socks off the way the first one did.


8.20.2014

2010: The Year We Make Contact


1984
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Category: Science Fiction

Here's a confession. I only recently saw Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for the very first time this past year. Gasp! Yes, it's true. I honestly don't know why I never took the time to see it either. But when I recently watched the stunning blu-ray, I was floored in a way that movies don't often affect me. It literally blew my geek mind. I became obsessed with 2001 and devoured every documentary I could find on it, as well as probably watching it a good half a dozen times within the next few weeks. 2001 easily became one of my top 3 favorite films of all time, and it will always be.

Then I remembered that somewhere in the 80's, one of my favorite directors, Peter Hyams, attempted to do the impossible, make a sequel to one of the best, most respected films of all time. The balls on this guy. And so seeing as how I personally love the guy, with a large chunk of his filmography being pretty stellar in almost every genre, I felt it my duty to track this film down and see if one of my favorite directors, making a sequel to one of my favorite films by another one of my favorite directors, could live up to that legacy. In case you were wondering, that film is 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

One of the things that's most impressive about 2010, besides Hyam's stellar camerawork, is the casting. Roy Schieder (always brilliant), Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban and hell, even Keir Dullea, surprisingly, makes an appearance and of course, Douglas Rain returns as the voice of HAL; all deliver top-notch performances, as you'd expect. Along with some impressive model and special effects work, Peter Hyams's 2010 is a well made technical achievement, but does it hold up against Stanley Kubrick's monstrous seminal masterpiece?

No, it doesn't. But that's okay, because what film can? What Hyams has done is created a moody, atmospheric, and often times tense-filled science fiction film that can easily go up against the best of them in this genre. While it's nowhere the level of awesome that Kubrick gave us with his groundbreaking film in 1968, 16 years before this films release, working from another novel by Arthur C. Clarke as the foundation, Hyams has crafted arguably one of the better sequels to a great film that nobody ever talks about, yet doesn't get enough credit where it's richly deserved. I'm really surprised myself. If this past year has taught me anything, it's that there are a ton of great sequels out there that nobody ever talks about. Worse yet, there are great sequels that don't get the proper recognition or releases they need. Case in point, Exorcist III and Psycho II right off the top of my head. I actually found these two films more entertaining than the originals, and the fact that even as a sequel, nobody ever mentions them is staggering. Does 2010 fall into that category? Definitely not. But it's a good sequel as far as sequels go and my point is that even as a science fiction film, I find it rather surprising that outside of a sequel, it's never mentioned as a great example of sci-fi thriller on it's own merit.

Worse yet, that it's never received a decent DVD or Blu-ray release is beyond perplexing. While there has been a Blu-ray release going back to 2009, it seems Warner Brothers made no effort to clean the print up or fix some of those annoying special effects issues commonly found in early 80's films where you see pesky boxes around an effects shot that makes it stand out against the rest of the background. If you owned the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS back in the day you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you read any reviews for this Blu-ray, it's pretty unanimous; a good film has been given a massively inferior Blu-ray release. Only time will tell if WB ever rectifies that.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a sequel in every sense of the word. It picks up years after the events of the first film. The world is in tension, with threat of war looming overhead. Dave Bowman is still missing, and the presence of the black monolith is still unexplained. A U.S. and Soviet joint expedition is sent to Jupiter to try and reactivate HAL in the hopes of figuring out what happened on that fateful day years ago.

If you've ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is your duty to see this sequel, if for no other reason than it will help 2001 make much more sense. A lot of  it was never fully, or even partially, explained. In the case of 2010, author Arthur C. Clarke and writer/director Peter Hyams at least attempt to explain questions and ideas that lingered ever since the original. Like, "What is the black monolith?".

Having been made in 1984, seeing some visually creative futuristic design schemes through the eyes of the films production designer and set decorator circa the early 1980's are another standout. I wish design and decor really turned out the way the early 80's envisioned it. Regardless, Hyams, who usually always works as his own Director of Photography/Cinematographer, utilizes the design aspect to his full advantage, giving the film a rich visual sheen that compliment his assured visual approach.

Much more of a conventional science fiction film compared to Stanley Kubrick's audacious original, what it lacks in ambition, it makes up for in it's more straight-forward approach to filmmaking; the downside being that it's lacking any real creative spark. With 2001, Kubrick implemented elements and ideas never before seen on film. In fact, I can't recall any other film ever that utilized a lot of the stylistic and creative choices found in 2001, or since. 2010 has none of that. What it does offer is a solid science fiction film that takes it's time in telling it's story. No gimmicks, no experimental tactics, and no surrealism. It's a smart, slow-burn science fiction film that doesn't offer scares or action, but rather a thinking man's sci-fi tale full of intelligent ideas with style to burn. It's without a doubt a film worth checking out.


8.18.2014

Low-Budget Horror: Wrong Turn 2


2007
Directed by: Joe Lynch
Category: Horror

I had no preconceived notions going into Wrong Turn 2. In fact, I've never actually seen this first one. It just always looked like one of those soft horror films starring current hot TV stars, so I never gave two thoughts about it. And from what I've heard, much like the Texas Chainsaw films, none of them really have anything to do with the other so you can watch these out of order and not be lost. But as I'm recently discovering, there are a lot of low-budget DTV horror films out there from the last 10 years that I easily dismissed for being trite low-budget garbage that are actually pretty damn good. Along with the likes of Feast and the Hatchet series, Wrong Turn 2 is one of those films.

Let's get something straight. Joe Lynch's Wrong Turn 2 knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be. What is that exactly? I'm glad you asked. A horror film. Duh! But no seriously, a straight-up old school balls-to-the-walls bloody horror film and in that department, it succeeds and it is pretty damn awesome. 

Wrong Turn 2 is indeed a low-budget affair, and looks as such. Every once in a while when you watch a DTV or low-budget flick, you're surprised at the caliber of quality presented to you on the screen and you wonder why it never went to theaters if it looks so good and is made so well. Such is the case with the first Hatchet film. That is not the case with Wrong Turn 2. It looks like a low-budget film and feels like a low-budget film. But that's also one of it's strengths since the filmmakers have much more leeway in terms of gore content and holy hell does this film deliver. Much like Adam Green's Hatchet and Hatchet II, the kills are so ingenious and blood spillage so extreme that when it comes to old school type horror films with practical effects work, these films are just about the best in the bunch. 

Needless to say, there's nothing new or original about Wrong Turn 2. It's pretty standard as far as backwoods horror films go, except they add the element of a reality show into the mix. Thankfully, the film doesn't play to the reality show format, it's just a ploy to get a bunch of people into the woods for a specific purpose other than hunting. So you can breathe easy, it's not a "found footage" atrocity. Instead we have a group of people on a Survivor type of reality show that takes place in the woods led by ex-Marine Dale Murphy (a very badass Henry Rollins). They soon discover they're not alone in these woods, which also happens to be home to a family of deformed mutant cannibals. Don't you hate it when that happens?

I'm not going to say that WT2 is anything other than it's trying to be because it is what it is and sometimes, that's all we need. It's a low-budget horror film with a high body count, plain and simple, and for your money, you can't go wrong here folks. The kills - some clever, some not so much - always go that extra mile in trying to shock you and in that department, Wrong Turn 2 gleefully succeeds on a level that you're just really not that used to anymore, which is damn refreshing. I'm telling you, some of the shit in here, I've never seen on screen before. Even during the opening credits sequence there's a kill that.......quite honestly, blew my mind. And it's execution was nothing short of brilliant. That's the kind of shit I want to see in a horror film and that's the kind of shit Wrong Turn 2 delivers on a level that's purely satisfying.

If there was anything that Wrong Turn 2 could have benefited from, it may be a stronger director. While some of the kill sequences were quite ingenious, for the most part, Joe Lynch's directing style is exactly what you'd expect from a DTV horror film, and that's not saying much. To learn that he hasn't directed much since, save for a few short films and last years geek comedy Knights of Badassdom, isn't a surprise in the least. But it's a minor complaint because in all seriousness, it's not all that bad. Some sequences were pretty impressive, usually the kill sequences, and the rest is passable compared to some of the trite stuff we've grown accustomed to over the years, most notably John Gulager's banal and unimaginative "all over the place" style of directing depicted in Feast, another practical effects load of fun. Joe Lynch's camerawork is thankfully, a few levels above that, but above all else, his passion for gore and practical effects work is inspiring. And on another plus, the large ensemble cast is a solid one. Much like in the first Hatchet film and well......any slasher film that inspired the Hatchet series, you have your token characters; the slut, the black guy, the nerd, the tough die-hard contestant, and so on - but the casting was better than you'd expect and for that, I give the casting department props.

Here's what you need to know. It's low-budget. It's got some insane and brutal kill sequences. It's done entirely with old school practical effects. The ensemble cast isn't annoying. Henry Rollins as a marine is just a badass, the kind of role you wish he got more of. And it's one of the best examples of a throwback horror film in the last 10 years. What more could you ask for?


8.16.2014

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Image courtesy of Impawards.com

2005
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Category: Thriller/Horror

After my experience revisiting The Exorcist III recently, I've decided that since III was so uncharacteristically awesome, I'd give the other sequels in the series a chance since I'd never actually taken the time to see any of them because of well.....bad word-of-mouth. We all love the original right? But any other film in this franchise has been ceremoniously crucified for their sins, and perhaps deservedly so. I haven't seen them yet, so I can't vouch for them. But that's about to change right now damnit.

After being haunted by an event during WWII, Father Merrin takes a sabbatical and travels to East Africa for an archaeology expedition when soon after a seemingly new and purposely buried church is uncovered. The appearance of a young man who's possession rocks the very foundation of Merrin's faith slowly begins to tie into the appearance of this newly unearthed church and the secrets that are buried with it. 

Here's what I know about Dominion and Exorcist: The Beginning. Apparently Golden Globe nominated writer and sometime director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) was hired to direct this prequel to The Exorcist, but after having completed most of it, the studio got cold feet and shelved his film basically saying it wasn't any good. They then hired Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm St. Part 4: The Dream Master) to come in and remake the film again using the same actors (mostly) and the same sets, this time aiming for more of a straight up horror film as opposed to Schrader's psychological take on the material.  When Harlin's version was unanimously panned and died a quick death at the box office, the studio decided to give Paul Schrader's version another shot, putting in a few more dollars so he could complete it and releasing it a year later under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. So what you have here is the same film, made twice by different directors offering a different take on the material. I agree, it's weird and confusing. I can only imagine how people felt not knowing any of this going into the theater to see Dominion after realizing that it's very similar to another Exorcist film from the year before.

Initially I went into this not expecting so much as a horror film per say, but rather a thriller. Schrader is a very talented writer, and knows how to offer up some gritty fare. Hell, he wrote Taxi Driver after all. So though he wasn't the writer this time around, I figured he could more or less gauge what goes into making a film a successful thriller. Though in his words, he was going for a psychological thriller. My thoughts? Not even close. What Dominion feels like more than anything is a drama, and a damn sloooooow one at that. I think the "thriller" tone Schrader was going for was somehow lost in the translation or editing process and what we have instead is a film so long and dull that you start to wonder, "Can Renny Harlin's version really be all that bad?". Honestly, I don't know, but I'm certainly going to find out.

I'm not going to bash the thing to death and say that it sucks, because it doesn't. It's well made, though surprisingly devoid of any real style or substance. It's just not the type of film you expect going in when the story is centered about the Exorcist mythology. It's a drama. A well made drama, but a drama nonetheless, and if you're not expecting a drama, then you'll be bored. Or at least, I was.

About halfway through when I realized this wasn't going to be anywhere near the level of awesome that the original and Part III possess, I decided to be a trooper and stick it through to the end, thinking maaaaybe the final act would somehow make up for the lackluster majority. Nope. It's an excruciatingly long and humdrum affair that packs no real entertainment value, other than to remind us why The Exorcist and The Exorcist III are such great films.

I'm not saying Paul Schrader is a bad director, because he's not. He's just not a very interesting one. And it's not all his fault. The screenplay by William Wisher (T2: Judgement Day, Judge Dredd) and novelist Cabel Carr (The Alienist) is nothing short of tedious, which is surprising considering the films Wisher has co-written before this. A severely missed opportunity would be putting it lightly because there's just nothing interesting about any of this. It's considered a prequel to the events of the first Exorcist film, yet it offers nothing in the way of backstory or completion. For example, if you never end up seeing this film, you won't be any less informed about what transpired before the first Exorcist film back in 1973. Nothing in here gives credence to the events in William Friedkin's first film and for that, Dominion is pretty much a wasted affair.

I'm going to say that I'm glad I saw this, if only for the sake of trying to complete this series of films. I don't think I was expecting it to blow me away the way Exorcist III did, but I at least expected to find the film interesting or even the slightest bit engaging. Neither was the case. Here's to hoping that Renny Harlin's more horror oriented take might actually end up being more entertaining than this drab contribution.