11.22.2014

Saw II


2005
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Category: Horror

Released just a year after the original, Darren Lynn Bousman takes over directing duties this time out, with Leigh Whannell again returning as co-writer (along with Bousman), and begins to resemble more of the type of film the franchise is known for. Instead of just 2 people like in the first film, this time out a whole group of unwitting participants are forced to endure a series of unimaginable tests and traps, with each character having a common link.

I rather enjoyed this film a lot more than the first one. Though Bousman's direction isn't any stronger than James Wan's in the original, there are a lot more kills, gore, and all around it's a better film because it's the start of what the franchise is to become and what it's known for. Structurally, it's a bit different than the first film; a welcome change in my opinion. This entry also has the added benefit of having Donnie Wahlberg (The best thing about Dead Silence) playing another cop, though a completely different type than his role in that film. Wouldn't it have been amazing if it was the same cheesy character from Dead Silence?! But his addition to the cast is a welcome surprise because he's definitely a better actor than most people give him credit for.

There's nothing terribly interesting in this entry, other than the more elaborate kills and torture devices. So in that department, I guess you can say it's a bit more original. But as I look back on it, I can't really think of a single scene that really stood out more than any of the others. Perhaps the pit needle scene? There are more cringe-inducing scenes for sure, but none that really make this stand out in my book. One of the added benefits this time around is that it's a much faster pace than the first one. Instead of building up to a conclusion, this entry basically throws you into the story right in the beginning and it's essentially a series of traps and set-ups for every character forced to participate, while simultaneously try to figure out what the common link they all share is. It's breakneck pace is refreshing though, for that I give them props.

Overall a refreshing addition to the franchise for a number of reasons; Wahlberg's character being incorporated into the storyline, some fresh inventive kills, a faster more hectic pace, and the gore department delivers the goods. I liked it more than I was expecting to, and coupled with Darren Lynn Bousman's "safe" direction, Saw II ultimately plays out like a solid horror film, the kind I was hoping for. On that note, it delivers the goods. Unfortunately I'm finding it hard to get excited about it or to be enthusiastic with this review. I liked it, but nothing about it really got me pumped up. I definitely enjoyed it more than the first one, with the effects and gore department delivering some outstanding work. But it just didn't blow me away. Overall a solid torture porn film where the participants make the stupidest decisions imaginable, much to both our delight and frustration, Saw II elevates all the ideas and concepts conceived in the first film and dials it up several notches. Now on to Saw III!
To be continued...

11.20.2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan


2014
Directed by: Adam Robitol
Category: Horror

It goes without saying that I detest "found footage" films. I hate them. After Oren Peli re-ignited the sub-genre back in 2007 with the vomit-inducing Paranormal Activity, it seems every wannabe director used this concept as a way of breaking into the business and exploiting a concept to death. They're not all terrible though. While a good 95% of them just flat out suck, there are a few gems in the crowd that help you forget that most of these films are simply made because they are cheap to produce, and pretty much anyone can direct them since running around with a camera and spinning it back and forth as much as possible doesn't require any real talent. The Taking of Deborah Logan is an excellent example of doing a "found footage" film right, and bless them for that.

I had never heard of this film before, until a reviewer I follow mentioned how great it was around the same time it premiered for streaming on Netlix. Needless to say, that night we had our sights set on what to watch and The Taking of Deborah Logan did not disappoint.

A team of students decide to chronicle a woman who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer's as part of a study for their school. Though reluctant, the woman agrees and soon things become much worse for everyone involved as it seems that Alzheimer's may not be the culprit after all, but rather something much, much worse. 

 What I loved about this film is that while most found footage filmmakers (I use that term loosely) think they know what it takes to make a low-budget film successful, writer/director/editor Adam Robitel does. Having worked with Bryan Singer for a number of years, he knows exactly what it takes to build tension and suspense, and none of that involves throwing the camera around like you're high on crack. Using a variety of different techniques to tell the story such as video footage, surveillance footage and news reports, he effortlessly blends them all together to tell a compelling and cohesive story that slowly builds itself to a stunning climax. Sure, a lot of what you see in here you've seen before, but I can guarantee you that there's also a lot that you haven't, and for that, TToDL takes a few large leaps above average in this sub-genre.

I feel that I need to mention, and I can't stress this enough, that the BEST thing about this film is it's lead, Jill Larson, who plays the titular Deborah Logan. Her psychological and physical descent, all with the power of acting, is breathtaking. Watching her take on a transformation with no help of special effects or CGI is nothing short of astonishing. Had Larson not been the lead in this, I seriously doubt that the events of the film, and the film in general, would or could have been as effective or successful. She was fantastic and I'm sure anyone who's seen this will agree with me.

Found Footage is an easy type of film to make. So much so that we get at least half a dozen new ones every year. The problem is that most of them aren't successful just because you think you can pick up a home video camera and record some crazy shit and try to "jump scare" us. Thankfully TToDL and it's team does everything right and knows exactly what it takes to tell a story, build tension, offer outstanding performances, and delivers the goods in an otherwise severely saturated field. *Hint: It doesn't involve running around with a camera and making us nauseous. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say this film reinvents the wheel or anything, but for a solid, well-made low-budget horror film with outstanding qualities both in front of and behind the camera, it doesn't get any better than this.

11.17.2014

The Shadow


1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Category: Action/Adventure

Russell Mulcahy is a baffling director, and I can't stress that enough. When the guy is firing on all cylinders, he can knock out some pretty stellar work. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between in his long and vast directing career that spans over 3 decades. Let me put it this way. The same director released both one of his best films and one of his worst films the same year with Ricochet (one of his best) and Highlander II: The Quickening (one of his worst). And if you didn't already know beforehand, you'd never guess the same guy made both of these films as aesthetically, they couldn't be anymore different. Whereas Ricochet is undoubtedly one of his most visually impressive works to date, infusing every single frame of film with so much style that it's almost too good for this type of film, Highlander II comes off as one of the most visually bland and uninspired messes in recent memory, and that's coming from a guy who actually loves his original Highlander (despite it's problems) to death, while most do not. Even I agree that Highlander II is an un-savable mess, no matter how many ways you cut it.

Aside from the excellent Ricochet, let's not forget that Mulcahy is also responsible for other great pieces of work like the original Highlander and Razorback in the plus department. I can now easily count The Shadow among them. Let's forget for a moment that Russell Mulcahy has directed so many humdrum direct-to-video misfires and an endless barrage of television and music video work and focus more on the few gigs worth noting, the few bright spots in his eclectic filmography. Films like The Shadow.

I'm not going to say that this was a great film, but it's a good one, and a notable effort in his mixed bag of varying degrees of success. Watching The Shadow brought back fond memories and more similarities of Dick Tracy than I remember. Both have great production value, design and ambition. Both have an impeccable visual brilliance and casting, but they also suffer from the same problems that keep them both from achieving greatness.

One of the things that this film, along with Dick Tracy, suffers from is that it teeters on both serious and playful, not ever really finding that right balance. And that's not necessarily Mulcahy's fault. David Koepp's script often spends too much time having to explain things, and not really enough time entertaining us. There's a lot of exposition, but none of it is terribly interesting. We get a lot of Lamont Cranston's/The Shadow backstory and a plot regarding an atomic bomb being set off in the city, but what we don't get is a lot of cool scenes of The Shadow running around fighting crime in that cool-ass cape. Baffingly, those sequences are few and far between and for a movie called The Shadow, we see very little of that character. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 15% of the time? Which honestly just isn't that much time at all. It's like having Michael Keaton in the Batman suit for only 20 minutes of the movie!

Completely unaware that Shout! Factory released this at some point in the last couple of years, I refused to watch Universal's 1997 DVD release because it was in dreaded Full Frame. So I was able to track down a Letterboxed Laserdisc for next to nothing and it also gave me an excuse to dust off the ol' player. While not in true widescreen, it's definitely the next best thing and far superior to Full Frame, though as we all know, Laserdisc just isn't up to snuff with DVD in terms of quality. But whatever. The point I'm getting at is that I'm glad I waited for the Laserdisc to check this out because visually, The Shadow is lush with vibrant imagery and an aesthetic that displays Mulcahy's knack for directing. None of this would be apparent had I watched this in it's most common form, the dreaded pan and scan/full frame edition from Universal back in '97. If this stuff matters to you, like it does me, it's worth the effort and extra bills to track down Shout! Factory's more recent release, or grab it's Laserdisc for fairly cheap on eBay.

Overall I actually quite liked this film a lot, if anything for it's impressive style. The production and design of everything in this in terms of the decor, sets, cityscape, wardrobe, and camera work is very impressive. The cast, led by Alec Baldwin (back when he was starring in films) is pretty fantastic as well. Penelope Ann Miller is criminally hot in this, and if you can look past John Lone's silly fake beard, he pulls off villain mode rather well. Ian McKellan, unfortunately, is a waste in this. He plays a scientist that's forced to create and activate the bomb and I'm not entirely sure, but I believe he was going for an American accent in this, but it's honestly hard to tell. Most of his scenes though are carried out while he's in a subconscious fog having been hypnotized by Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the descendant of Genghis Khan, to build and deploy this atomic bomb for him. So he's kind of just there in body, but he's not really all there in spirit and it just seems like such a waste for an actor of his caliber.

It feels like it needed to be a little more fun with a lot more action, so in that department The Shadow fails, but only marginally. I do have one question though. Why is it that when Lamont Cranston is in Shadow mode, he looks almost exactly like his brother Billy Baldwin? Part of the deal is that when he dons the cape and mask, his face physically changes. But I wonder if they purposely tried to make him look like his brother? I can't be alone in this thought.

11.13.2014

Saw


2004
Directed by: James Wan
Category: Horror

I think most of you will be surprised to learn that I've never actually seen any of the Saw films before. Well, that's not true. I had only seen this film once before, and honestly couldn't remember much about it other than the basic storyline. When I look back on it, I find it almost shocking to realize that James Wan is half responsible for creating the Torture Porn sub-genre. Why? Well because he's been more known for making spooky ghost stories more than anything. I'm not sure if co-writer/director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) and co-writer/actor Leigh Whannell had their sights set on a franchise right from the get-go, but with a limited budget and some sheer raw talent, they ultimately created one of the most successful horror franchises in film history, in a time when the genre was saturated with tired formulas and weak uninspired slasher sequels that couldn't hold a torch to anything produced in the 80's. But then Saw comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and creates a totally new horror icon, a new sub-genre, and most importantly, the need for horror fans to get their asses back into those theater seats.

It's been 10 years since this films original release, and while this new genre of horror or these films in particular are nothing to get excited about anymore, October of 2004 was a totally different story. While the films (7 as of this date) have changed dramatically in tone and substance since it's original inception, the core of the story and the mythology is here in the first one, just not over the top and in your face like the rest of them have grown to be. Being as I'd never gotten around to watching these, when Lionsgate recently released the entire set in a rather cheap Blu-ray set (3 films per disc?), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally do so.

Saw was surprising to me for a number of different reasons. First off, it's strikingly apparent that James Wan has grown considerably as a visual director since this film (his 2nd as director). While most of it is decent, a few amateurish sequences (like the car sequence) here and there surprised me quite a bit. But that's really just nitpicking, because overall, it was a solid effort. 3 years later he would give us Dead Silence, his most visually impressive film to date, and I wonder if that has more to do with him or his DoP? In either case, while not terribly inventive in the visual department, he tries his best to give it a Seven vibe; dark and gritty. The problem is that it's just not always successful. I was also surprised to see that the gore content was considerably lower than what I was expecting, and the kills, which the franchise in general has been known for, were few and far between. I guess the history and reputation of this series had me expecting something grande, but again, it's just nitpicking on my part. I don't know if writer/actor/co-creator Leigh Whannell already had the vision of the franchise set in his head or not at this point, but I never would have guessed the direction it would eventually take simply based on this film alone. With that being said, it's an impressive start, and a good standalone film in it's own right. Dark, gritty, violent (at times) with both a shocking and satisfying conclusion. It takes it's time setting things up, and it's more concerned with telling a fleshed out story rather than shocking you with it's gore content, which is where I think the series eventually leads to.

One of the things I found that helped the film was it's low budget. Being under the constraints of a limited budget allowed Wan and his crew to experiment with different ideas and technical know-how to produce something creative and unique. Most of the film takes place in a single room, which you'd think would be difficult to keep interesting, yet they find a way by changing up styles and frequently keeping things tight. The constant sense of claustrophobia lends itself to a constant uneasiness that keeps driving the film forward to it's dramatic conclusion. Not a bad start for a young filmmaker who'd only had one other film released before this. I should also add that Charlie Clouser's riveting and catchy score only adds to the films overall intense vibe, and Saw is all the better for it. It's a great theme and one that I hope continues on through the subsequent films.

I'm not going to say that I loved it, but I'm glad I saw it. I feel it's a start if I'm to try and understand the appeal of this long running series that seemed to knock them out literally every year. Now on to Part 2! To be continued...

11.11.2014

Legend: The Director's Cut


1985
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Category: Fantasy

I have fond memories of being enamored by this fantasy film going back to my mid teen's when this first came out. The design, the look, the lush visuals, and most of all, fucking Tim Curry's knockout performance as Darkness. Funny thing though is that I don't actually remember if it was a good movie or not, just that the design of the whole thing always impressed the hell out of me.

Somehow in some way this film popped inside my head recently and I realized that it had been ages since I revisited it. Without a moments hesitation I got online and snagged the Ultimate Edition, which includes both the Theatrical Cut with the Tangerine Dream score, and the Director's Cut, which includes about 8 minutes of new footage as well as re-inserting Jerry Goldsmith's original score. Of course I went straight with the Director's Cut in my first outing, with plans to revisit the Theatrical version shortly. I was curious to see if this new version would be so dramatically different that I'll have a greater appreciation for it, or if my feelings would generally remain the same.

Essentially, my feelings remain the same. The Director's Cut, with added footage and a different, more magical score than what I was used to, didn't really bring anything new to the experience for me. There's a lot to love aesthetically about Legend; the set design, Scott's brilliant visuals, Rob Bottin's stunning makeup work - especially when it comes to Darkness - basically the whole production. That's what people have and will always walk away from with Legend. But Legend is definitely lacking in several departments that hinder it's ability to become just flat out awesome. I was gonna use Legendary, but the fact of the matter is that it is indeed legendary. Though a box office dud during it's initial theatrical run, it's certainly amassed a healthy cult status since and remains one of the most visually impressive fantasy films ever made. But it's not without it's problems.

Both versions of the film suffer from the same issues, too dull for the majority of the running time, and not nearly enough action/adventure or excitement as there should be. Sure it's a fantasy/fable, but you've also got to keep us invested and entertained, especially when it's nearly impossible to understand what any of the actors are saying, other than Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry, without using subtitles due to the specific way the elves and fairies speak. So much of the film relies on visuals that they often forget to keep things exciting. It's pretty to look at, sure, but when it's an endless trek for the protagonist (Tom Cruise) as he searches for his love, along with his elf friends, you're kind of left just waiting and waiting for Darkness to show up, which he does, but not until the very last 30 minutes! Then the film resembles more of what you expect going in in the first place. But having to sit through an entire hour of whimsical just to get to 30 minutes of awesome is a little bothersome.

Of course, it's with these last 30 minutes where Legend really shines, and it's what most will remember. Darkness is front and center, and Ridley Scott's visual flair is on full display. Everything about this third act, except maybe for Darkness's flimsy horns while he's running, are expertly executed for a more darker and sinister finale. This is what I'm sure everyone was hoping for in terms of how Legend would play out. Too bad it's not until the very end. In an interview contained in the special features, Scott himself has gone on record as saying that there were a few things he would change given the chance, like adding more action and adventure into the story, and not succumbing to pressure by severely cutting it down from his original vision. Apparently, a stoned moviegoer at a screening that Scott also attended made a few comments, which ultimately threw Scott into panic mode and resulted in his cutting the film down considerably. Because a guy who was stoned had a big mouth.

Makeup effects master Rob Bottin has been in the business since the mid '70's. The man is responsible for some truly stellar makeup work such as John Carpenters The Thing, The Howling, Total Recall, and most importantly, designing Robocop's iconic suit. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but my feelings are that easily the best thing about this film is Rob Bottin's stunning makeup job creating Darkness, arguably the best interpretation of the devil I've ever seen on film. Most of Bottin's work has been iconic to say the least, none more important than his work on Robocop and Darkness, but I have one question; Why is it that he hasn't worked on anything since 2002?

I don't hate it, but I don't love it either. It falls a few steps short of brilliant for a number of reasons, but remarkably, it's still entertaining because of it's audacious production and a clear indication of Ridley Scott's impeccable attention to detail and his brilliant eye. It's absolutely worth a purchase because for a mere $10-$15 you get 2 versions of the film, along with a great documentary and a healthy dose of other special features. It's pure eye candy, plain and simple. Nothing more.

11.05.2014

Best Underrated Horror Sequels

When it comes to sequels, it's safe to say that the majority of them are not very good. It's a hard thing to tackle, to take a fresh take on a story that was pretty stellar with it's original inception, though it does happen from time to time with amazing results. Aliens, Superman II, Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spider-Man 2 (2004), Terminator 2, and so on. Horror sequels are even harder. The majority of original horror films are pretty great, and most are hard to top. But there are some great horror sequels out there. Some top the original in almost every way, while others are just flat out great as a sequel on their own merit, not meaning or needing to top their predecessor. Here is a list of my favorite horror sequels that should be given some more consideration.

Exorcist III: Legion
I remember seeing this in the theater as a teenager and being bored to tears. So much so that I blocked the entire experience from my memory, remembering nothing but a single frame of film that has always stuck with me. It's the scene of Kinderman (George C. Scott) being thrown up against a padded cell wall and staying there, suspended with the power of the possessed patient he's there to question.

I don't remember why exactly, but I decided to give this film another go recently, and the result was one of the best film experiences and surprises I can remember. Exorcist III plays out more like a really dark and terrifying detective thriller more than anything, but it's execution is flawless. Superior camera work from original Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty (who did writing and directing duties on this one), a taught and extremely well written script with some witty dialogue, and some moments of pure adrenaline filled suspense that make it easily one of the best, most underrated horror films in the last 30 years. The cast is fantastic, with Brad Dourif (who I forgot was even in this) giving one helluva intense performance. For a more in-depth review of this great film, you can read my review HERE. This has also recently been released on Blu ray for the first time by Warner Home Video for fairly cheap. I'd snag that baby up pronto if I were you.

Psycho II
Hitchcock's original Psycho is regarded as one of the best horror/thriller's ever made, and for good reason. His direction is razor sharp, and the performances are flawless. But rarely are any of the sequels ever mentioned. I'd heard good things about this one throughout the years, but never really gave it or any of the following sequels a whirl because the original was never one of my favorite films in the first place, or one of my favorite horror films in general.

Back in June I decided to change all that by finally attempting to watch Psycho II for the first time, and I have to say, I found it to be a smart, clever, engaging, fun and all around better film than the original. What did he just say? I know, I may be in the minority on this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it so much that I just fell in love with it. Overall, I feel that it captures a certain vibe that was missing from the first one, and the fact that it was made in the early 80's only adds to it's charm. Director Richard Franklin (Patrick, Road Games, Cloak & Dagger), a protege of Hitchcock, and writer Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play) both offer up some stellar work in their respective departments. It's a solid film through and through and for my money, better than the first one in almost every way. Sure there's no "shocking" sequence that can top the shower sequence or the "big reveal" of the original, but it's out-of-left-field surprising twist ending even had me picking my jaw up off the floor. Scream Factory has released a pretty great Blu ray of this about a year ago that is arguably the best release to purchase. You can check out my review of this film HERE.

The Collection
Few modern horror films have impressed me as much as this single film has. I'd only vaguely heard about the first film in the series, The Collector, but never really had an opportunity to come across it. I'd read that it was better than you'd expect it to be, and the cover art always intrigued me. But still, I never made any effort to seek it out. When the sequel The Collection hit Netflix streaming, I thought I'd give it shot regardless of the fact that I never actually saw the first film.

While I was somewhat lost for the first few minutes, my girlfriend filled in the blanks for me since she had actually seen the first one. I can honestly say without hesitation that The Collection is arguably one of the best modern horror films out today. Marcus Dunstan, who cut his teeth writing the Feast films, the Piranha remakes, as well as Saw 4, 5 & 6 made his directorial debut with the first Collector, a sort of home invasion/Saw hybrid where a guy wearing a killer mask invades a home, and systematically sets up some impressive traps for the people living inside of it - and it seems that he did some serious homework because he grew considerably as a director from that film to this one and the results are outstanding. The Collection stands as a stellar example of a slasher film, with Dunstan displaying some considerable talent behind the camera. The Collection is a vast improvement aesthetically and thematically over the first film, and one of the best examples of a modern slasher film in recent memory. Now comes word that their are plans in the work for a third installment (FINALLY!!) and I couldn't be more excited. You can check out my original review of this excellent slasher HERE.

Halloween II (1981)
Believe it or not, I only ever saw this film literally just this past year for the first time. Gasp! I have no excuses. It's just one of those films that always slipped through the cracks for me. Released 3 years after the mega success of John Carpenter's original, Carpenter and writing/producing partner Debra Hill returned for this sequel, only this time as the films writers and producers, leaving the directing duties to Rick Rosenthal. While Rosenthal's use of the steadicam is in no way near as effective or creative as Carpenter's, he does a pretty bang up job following in Carpenter's footsteps, doing his best to duplicate both the look and feel of that seminal film. It doesn't always work, but even when it doesn't, it's oozing a solid structure, style and sense of constant dread that makes it easily one of the best sequels out there, even outside of the horror genre. Not to mention it's time period (early 80's), which adds that extra bit of flavor.

The slasher genre has always been one of my favorites, but the Halloween franchise has never been a favorite of mine. Let's face it, the first three are the only good ones. Anything after Season of the Witch has been either uninspired, rushed, lame, or just flat-out awful. Most of the Halloween films suck, and that's kind of embarrassing. But what we have here is essential viewing for any slasher fanatic, because though it's been over 30 years since this entry, it's stood the test of time.

Halloween II (2009)
Rob Zombie really doesn't get the credit he deserves for reviving a dead in the water franchise and giving the slasher genre some life. Really. I'll admit, it took me 5 years after it's initial release to finally bring myself to watch this because up until this point, I hadn't been much of a fan of his particular style of filmmaking. But all that changed when I gave this a whirl and proceeded to have my mind blown. Rob Zombie's unrated version of H2 is undoubtedly one of the most brutal slasher films ever made. This thing is just downright savage, ruthless and unrelenting. It was also the first time I noticed that Zombie could possess a keen visual eye for directing. This was of course before I saw his Kubrikian opus Lords of Salem. But here, his visuals are far more attractive than most of what he accomplished with his first Halloween remake. I've since learned he had a method for what he did with his previous Halloween film, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable for me. But here it's pretty solid from beginning to end, without changing up styles like he did with the first one, and for that, I just automatically like it much more. But while he tried to implore a reason and a backstory with the first one, here he just goes all out in slasher mode and I have to tell you, it's fucking fantastic. Brutality at it's best.

It's quite surprising to hear that this film was Zombie's worst experience making a film. As is often the case, studio meddling made it pretty much a nightmare for him this time out, but you'd never know it. H2 is one of the best and most brutal slasher sequels ever made, and the second best film in Zombie's career, after The Devils Rejects. You can check out my original review HERE.

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
I've never given the Wrong Turn films a second thought. After the first film starred actors the likes of Eliza Dushku, I immediately dismissed it. I know every sequel since has gone straight to video, which gave me all the more reason to not bother with them. That is until I came upon an article a few months back. I don't remember what the specific list that the article was about, but I remember this being mentioned in the highest regards and knowing Henry Rollins was the star made it all the more appealing. One night for movie night, we threw this on with some friends and holy shit did we have our socks blown off.

There's nothing new or special about this Direct-to-Video sequel that makes it any different than the endless ones that flood the DTV market. However, what WR2 displays is a knack for knowing what makes a horror film so memorable, and in that department, WR2 delivers the goods. It's the same story that's been told countless times; a group of people are in the woods - in this case, filming a reality survival show led by drill instructor Henry Rollins (a total badass) - and end up getting hunted one by one by a hungry incestuous cannibal family. It's really as simple as that, yet the use of outstanding practical effects work, kinetic, yet inventive camera work by Joe Lynch, and a solid cast make this one far better and enjoyable than it has any right being. It's old school horror done right, by people that have an insane passion for it. Don't let it's low-budget aura fool you, for a straight up slasher film with some over-the-top kills, WR2 has most of these other knockoffs beat. If you've never given these films a shot, I implore you to at least try this one. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3
If there was ever a horror sequel that's been severely overlooked, it's this one. Though almost everyone outright dismisses the terrible Next Generation, most also seem to never even mention this one when discussing Chainsaw films, which is a shame because it's a pretty solid slasher and one of the better Chainsaw films in my opinion.

Despite it's nearly complete lack of gore (Thanks MPAA assholes), I've always loved this film. It's a pleasant reminder of old school horror. It's bleak, dark, and full of dread. At the time, Jeff Burr was an up and coming director who had just given us a few cult classics like The Offspring and The Stepfather 2. He was brought in as a last minute replacement for this film and I personally think he did an outstanding job considering. Visually, I consider it one of the best looking Chainsaw films in the franchise. The MPAA butchered it to shreds, but even so, it's a darker take on the material and a breath of fresh air after Part 2 left a sour taste in my mouth. By no means a great or perfect film, it's charm lies heavily on it's ability to both look and feel like a true blue Texas Chainsaw film. The Unrated Version does offer a different ending, and a few scenes here and there that were originally cut down, but in no way would I call it an "Unrated" version. All the shit you hear about from director Jeff Bur and makeup artist Greg Nicotero is still missing and sadly, we may never see some of the crazy effects and gore that's become the stuff of legend. You can check out my original review for this classic HERE.

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)
Never have I come across a film as divided as this in the horror community. Even today, as I discuss films regularly on different Facebook horror groups, Fright Night Part 2 is always a topic of contention. Why? I honestly don't know. My guess is that so many people hold the original dear to their hearts, for good reason. I mean, who doesn't love Fright Night, right? But Part 2 is so easily dismissed way too often and honestly, I think people are seriously missing out. Maybe they're not getting it? Or maybe they just don't want to like it? While it's a completely different type of film than the original, there is soooo much to love about this sequel, if you give it a chance.

Beginning with the cast, Roddy McDowell and William Ragsdale return in the leads, but it's the supporting cast that's a standout this time around with new additions Jon Gries, Tracy Lind and Brian Thompson adding a healthy bit of flavor to the mix. Personally I wasn't a fan of Julie Carmen as Regine Dandridge, the sister of the now deceased Jerry Dandridge. I don't see her as being sexy enough for the role, but that's just me. Halloween III: Season of the Witch director Tommy Lee Wallace helms this time around and the film is all the better for it. When Wallace is firing on all cylinders, he's able to infuse his films with enough of a Carpenter-esque vibe that it's clear he's a severely underrated director. That's not always the case, as we all know, but he has turned out some great work in the past. What I felt he contributed to this film in spades is style, a rich atmosphere and energy that's not easily found in horror sequels, and most importantly, substance. Fright Night Part 2 has a lot going for it that's easily overlooked for some odd reason.

Though this has only ever gotten a single bare bones full frame DVD release outside of VHS and Laserdisc (none of which are in widescreen), a new Blu ray is only imminent. Scream Factory, do you hear me? I'm talking to you. You can find it in widescreen online if you look hard enough. When Showtime aired it on their cable channel in widescreen, it's safe to assume that is where most got their widescreen transfer from, which has been sold all over the internet. If you're anal about that kind of stuff as I am, I urge you to watch it in widescreen. It's a better film in general for it. You can check out my original review HERE.

And this is where I take a bow. When I took some time and thought about "my" favorite underrated horror sequels, these were the first ones that came to mind. I know a lot of others won't agree with this list, but that's the fun part; discussion. I'm sure there are others that slipped my mind that I'm sure I'll think of after I've posted this, but for the time being, I'm happy with it. I could go on and on, but I need to put a cutoff point somewhere, so I figure 8 is as good a number as any to stop at.

11.03.2014

Spontaneous Combustion

Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com

1990
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Category: Horror

Austin, TX bred director Tobe Hooper has had a long and interesting career directing films and television shows in the horror genre. Of course we all know he's the man responsible for creating/co-writing/directing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre waaaaay back in 1974, but the guy's been working regularly in the business ever since then. As with most directors, he's had varying degrees of success. After Chainsaw he gave us a couple of cult classics like Eaten Alive, the Stephen King made-for-TV movie Salem's Lot and The Funhouse. But his most prolific and most popular output is most definitely the 80's, where after directing the blockbuster Poltergeist he was given a 3 Picture Deal with Cannon films, which resulted in Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Sadly, none of these were hits, thus ending his streak of having films released theatrically. In the following years he did nothing but television work, with 1990's Spontaneous Combustion being his only feature film until 1993's Night Terrors, both of which went straight to home video.

I have to say, I quite liked Spontaneous Combustion. It's more of a thriller than anything, and while it tends to be on the slow side a little too often, it has a lot to admire for many reasons. If anything, it proves that Hooper indeed has a knack for visuals and practical effects work, and the fact that it was made in the late 80's going into the 90's is a plus. There's just something about movies having a specific look when they were made around this time. 1990 has and always will be my favorite year of cinema, and to learn that this came out that same year only drives that point further.

Sam is a product of the atomic age. When his parents volunteer for an experiment that would test the effects of radiation, their experiment results in an unplanned pregnancy. Both of the parents die during childbirth in a horrific fire, but Sam (Brad Dourif), grows up to be a well adjusted teacher. When the usually meek Sam begins to experience some unexplained phenomena, other things begin to take on a whole new meaning, and Sam soon learns that his entire life is not what it seemed, resulting in a climax that has been building up his entire life.

When people discuss Tobe Hooper's filmography, Spontaneous Combustion is never mentioned, and I'm actually quite surprised. It's by no means a perfect film, but considering most of his output since the 80's has been rubbish, I consider SC to be a solid film that fares far better thematically than pretty much anything he's done since 1986. On a visual level, SC is pure Tobe Hooper at the top of his game. Even with the dated practical effects work, considering it was all in-camera and practical effects, it's impressive to think of how much work went into creating them. By 2014 standards, the fire effects are generally sub-par to the average moviegoer, but when you consider that this was 1989 when it was made, I find it all rather impressive. Sure, it's mostly composite shots, but at least it's not bad CGI in it's infancy, which was just around this time. So for that, I commend them for not going the easy route, and let's be honest, there's a lot to say about practical effects work, even if it is dated.

From what I've read, most people seem to have a problem with it never reaching it's full potential. I disagree, but only partly. While it is somewhat of a slow-burn kind of experience, the payoff is exactly what I was expecting and it's slow buildup to it's intense conclusion left me satisfied. Right from the beginning you get the sense that this is not going to be a horror film, and it's not. But for what it is, it exudes a certain charm that makes it hard for me to hate on its shortcomings. With that being said, it's slow approach culminates in a series of events that lead Sam (Brad Dourif) to slowly begin to unhinge, resulting in arguably one of Brad Dourif's most intense performances. If you've always loved to hear him scream like I do, then you'll be happy to know that he does plenty of that in the final act.

This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for fans of Tobe Hooper, Brad Dourif, daring practical effects work and just of 90's horror/thriller's in general, there's a lot to like about Spontaneous Combustion. I don't remember anything of his Toolbox Murders remake, so I'll have to revisit that soon to refresh my memory. But as it stands now, I'd consider this to be the last good Tobe Hooper film.

10.31.2014

Nightbreed: Director's Cut Limited Edition Blu ray review

Scream Factory's 3 Disc Limited Edition Release

Prologue:
Ever since it's initial theatrical release, Nightbreed has always been a favorite film of mine. I was a huge Clive Barker fan as soon as Hellraiser first came out. After that, I soon set out and collected every single short story and novel Barker had done up until that point, with Cabal being one of them. Even when you watched Nightbreed back before there was ever word of this mythical Cabal Cut, you always felt like something was missing from it, that a lot of it felt rushed or incomplete. It wasn't until word started spreading that a Cabal Cut was hitting the festival circuits and conventions, and it's impending petition to push this version into realization for all to see that all the behind the scenes stories and details began to emerge from the man himself, Clive Barker, that we really got the full story and intentions of his film. Little did I know that Nightbreed had always intended to be a horror trilogy, the Star Wars of the horror genre as Mr. Barker has put it. Sadly, studio meddling all but prevented his original vision to see the light of day. Fearing that they wouldn't know how to market a monster movie, and worse yet, make any money, they decided to sell it as a slasher film, complete with inconspicuous poster and a trailer that makes it look like the film is all about Decker being a serial killer, which in retrospect, would have been cool regardless if that had always been the intent, because after all, Decker has become just as big a figure in the horror community as the Nightbreed. Come to think of it, now I want a slasher film about Dr. Decker.

Well here we are, 25 years later and through a lot of hard work, and a petition to spearhead the effort (Morgan Creek initially had no desire to both look in their vaults for any archive material, nor did they think anyone actually cared about Nightbreed enough to warrant any future releases, that just wasn't in the cards) that took off like a bat out of hell, pretty much forcing Morgan Creek to take notice of the fact that Nightbreed is indeed a valuable property, and that we would take anything and everything Nightbreed related. I have been a strong supporter of this cause, often promoting the petition here on my blog, twitter and facebook as often as I could, with utter glee and excitement at the possibility that one day I may be able to see this Cabal Cut of one of my most favorite horror films. So here I am, a lot older than I was when in 1990, but nonetheless excited to see if all the hard was worth it, or if it paid off.

Review:
I have to admit, as big a fan as I am of all things Nightbreed and Cabal, I was a bit letdown by this new version. With all the things I'd heard about the Cabal Cut and all the new elements found, restored and presented into this new DC, I honestly didn't feel it changed anything drastically enough to say that it feels like a more "complete" film or a "new" version altogether. Trust me, no one is more shocked than I to hear me say this, but it's true. First of all, let's set the record straight; this is NOT the Cabal Cut. There are still plenty of scenes shot and missing from this version that were on that spliced together VHS Cut that took the underground circuit by storm. This is more of a streamlined version of that, because while there is a lot more footage out there, it doesn't all necessarily belong in the film for one reason or another.

I'll admit, I had very high expectations, and that coupled with the fact that I've been such a die hard fan of this film from the beginning may have contributed to my overall feeling of being underwhelmed, but it's how I feel and I simply just can't help it. Not that I disliked it or anything, on the contrary. This new version offers a lot of new things to admire, and some not so much. Overall on a technical level, they cut out 20 minutes of footage from the theatrical cut, and incorporated 40 minutes of all new never-before-seen footage, while also making some slight changes to the structure. The result is a bigger emphasis on Boone and Lori's relationship, and the world of Midian is a much bigger presence than before. Though I had read countless times that Decker's role has been minimized dramatically, I honestly didn't notice. He's still a strong driving force behind why everything falls into place and responsible for the demise of Midian, so he's still a very large and important piece of Nightbreed.

Narcisse doesn't make it through to the end in this version
There are some nice changes to be found though. For one, the ending is much stronger than the tacked on horror movie ending of the theatrical cut, which felt like more of a forced addition by the studio. Most notable is the fact that Narcisse does not live, succumbing to a gruesome death at the hands of Decker, and Boone and Lori share a touching epic moment together on top of a hill that culminates in a dramatic finale more fitting than the "let's get this over with" vibe of the theatrical version. It's much more poetic and beautiful and the film is stronger because of it.

Other new welcome additions are little tweeks like Doug Bradley finally providing his own voice as Lylesberg, and when Boone is Cabal, he's not using a forced strained growl like in the Theatrical Cut. I always found that annoying. It's almost as if Christian Bale modeled his Batman voice after this. In this version, when Boone is Cabal, actor Craig Sheffer is using his own, less gruffy voice, and it sounds a lot better, and less forced. And as I mentioned before, 20 minutes have also been omitted, with some other editing tweeks that slightly change the structure of the film.

Having seen Nightbreed as many times as I have, I easily noticed every single new shot in the film. That alone could be a blessing and a curse, depending on how hardcore you are about this film. For me, it was slightly somewhere in the middle. I liked the new scenes and got excited at each new shot I'd never seen before, yet my mind was so focused on picking out these new scenes that I found it hard to focus on the film itself. Maybe the problem is that I just need to watch it all over again? While the new scenes were cool to see, I didn't need to see Lori singing an entire country song in a bar to add anything to the experience. There were also a lot of new scenes integrated into the climactic battle between the monsters and the town of Shere Neck. These scenes were a mixed bag because some were a welcome addition, like the one with Decker holding Narcisse's head on his knife, while others looked amateurish or unnecessary. There was one scene I found important though. It's a scene of Lori and Sheryl Ann when they first meet at the bar, yet in this expanded version, we see the moment Sheryl Ann meets Curtis, who ultimately turns out to be Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg). Very welcome addition in my opinion, yet I wasn't a fan of the way it was shot. You see a closeup of a hand, after you've been slightly misled when Sheryl Ann looks over at the table and the camera pans to a fat guy in a flannel shirt. I would have chosen a different approach to that whole scene.

I think I should re-watch it again without interruption and see if my opinion changes. As it stands now, I have no problem with the Theatrical Cut, except for maybe the "safe" ending the studio forced onto Barker. It's pace is a lot faster with a slightly different structure. Yet, I wouldn't say the DC is smoother, on the contrary. I found it to be sluggish in a few spots and underwhelming in others, but I don't dislike it. This new Director's Cut is a fine example of an alternate take on an already fantastic film, it's just that I didn't feel that it made the experience any better for me. I'm glad I shelled out for the Limited Edition version though, so now I'll also have the Theatrical Cut on Blu ray also should I choose to revisit Nightbreed the way I remember it. I know I am in the minority on this one, and I'm sure I'll get a lot of flack for not being in love with this new version, but believe me, nobody is more surprised than I at this development.

As you all know, there is so much more to this new release than just the film itself. For the first time we get a shitload of new behind the scenes material that makes the purchase totally worth it, whether you go for the standard release or the Limited Edition. Of course, the Limited Edition has that 3rd disc with more special features, but the 2 disc version still has plenty to "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" over. By now, you've done your research and know what all that entails, so I won't bore you with another list of every single supplemental material included, but believe me when I say, it's fucking gold. The blu ray discs themselves are impressive, but not anywhere near the quality I was expecting for a blu ray release, though I will admit that it is leaps and bounds better than the one DVD release this film ever got. And the same can be said for the newly added 40 minutes of footage. If you weren't a die hard fan of this film like myself, who's seen it countless times in the 25 years since it's release, you'd never know which ones they were as they are on par with the quality of any other image in this film, with smooth transitions and nothing to indicate something's been added.

Epilogue:
This is the product of a LOT of hard work, determination and passion. It was a 25 year long wait for most of us (the old ones), and we honestly thought Clive Barker's vision would never see the light of day. I can't think of another example of a movie that was essentially forgotten about in the horror community for so many years to basically come out of nowhere and take the horror and film community by storm, bringing together fans, nerds, geeks, and die hard enthusiasts together with an outstanding and fucking impressive release that will be the talk of the community for years and years to come. This new Directors Cut of Clive Barkers original vision didn't blow me away as I had hoped, but I'm glad I saw it, I'm glad I own it, and I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. It's an important release, if anything than for the power of the petition, but more importantly, because it was a great film ahead of it's time that needed to be brought back to the forefront of horror cinema. Too many people had either forgotten about it, or never gave it a second thought. So this release is important for a myriad of reasons, and Shout!/Scream Factory should be commended for doing something that we never thought could happen.

Update:
I've since revisited this cut for a second time, and while my original feelings generally remain the same, when I watched it again, I did appreciate some of these new sequences and scenes a little more. These new scenes, while doing nothing to really change the story, do add a bit of substance to the story and fleshes out some sequences that felt a little too rushed before. Most importantly, Barker was trying to showcase the love between Lori and Boone, making it front and center instead of being somewhat glossed over in the Theatrical Cut. In this new version, you see what drives her to put her life in danger repeatedly to rescue the man she loves. That was barely touched on before. And the new ending epicly and beautifully ties all that together.

Ultimately, I'm still divided. I like both cuts equally. I grew up with the Theatrical Cut, having seen it close to 100 times. That's just a guess though. So I'm fine with that cut. The Directors Cut adds a little more depth, but doesn't make it any stronger in my opinion. All in all, I'm sure I'll be revisiting the DC more often than the TC, just because the ending is so much better. When originally released in 1990 severely cut and altered by the studio, I'm not entirely sure that Nightbreed would have done any better had Barker been given free reign to make, cut and release the film he wanted. Personally, I think Nightbreed was ahead of it's time; simple as that. The world wasn't ready for it then. 25 years later, we've come full circle, and I think this is the perfect time to embrace the tribes of the moon.
~ Jason Elizondo (robotGEEK)

10.29.2014

I met Kane Hodder, and it was not what I expected

Being a HUGE lover of film, movies, cinema, oddly enough I've never been starstruck. I'd never be the one to go up to a celebrity and ask them for an autograph at the airport or a restaurant or something. I know they probably don't enjoy it and honestly, what would it do for me? Probably nothing, other than being worried I bothered them when they wanted to be left alone. When I lived in Austin, TX, celebrities were everywhere. Just during the few years I lived there you could easily run into Sandra Bullock, Mathew McCounaghey, Robert Plant or Robert Rodriguez. I guess what I'm saying is that it was no big deal. They're human beings too, and I'm sure having people walk up to them all day gets annoying.

literally being choked to death by Kane Hodder
But I have a few exceptions, and one of them being Kane Hodder, because I'm such a huge horror nerd. I idolized this guy. I grew up watching his Friday the 13th films in the theaters throughout the 80's and 90's. Yea, I'm that old. And when I discovered the Hatchet franchise recently, I became even more infatuated with the guy. It's fucking Kane Hodder man! And on top of his crazy busy schedule, he's got another horror icon under his belt! So when I learned he would be appearing at this years South Texas Horror Con this past weekend, I was ecstatic. If there was anybody I'd be excited about, it would be him. Of all the horror franchises, the Friday films have always been my favorite. I love the simplicity of them, and I love how there are so many, all with varying degrees of success. And while I think a few of the actors to don the hockey mask were really good, Hodder has always been my favorite. Now, I've always been a strong opponent of actors charging fee's for autographs and pictures. I just don't think it's right. If you've been lucky enough to break into the business and be successful at it, the last thing you should be doing is charging people for the chance to meet you. You should be grateful, and humble because there are literally millions of people every day who try and try and could only dream of having the success that you have achieved working in a field that is one of the hardest to break into. Maybe grateful is not the right word. Maybe appreciative?

But anyway, I thought to myself, "when will I ever get this chance again?". It's Kane fucking Hodder! My girlfriend just so happened to get a convention booth set up right next to his for her Happy Kitty Makeup FX company. Since I was going to help her all weekend, I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Kane Hodder for 2 full days. As soon as I arrived though, I had my eyes set on the guy. I wanted a picture, and an autograph. I didn't care how much it cost (In case you were wondering, it was $10 for a photo with the guy, $35 for him to sign something, or $40 for both a picture and an autograph). Yes, a little steep, but I was willing because I wanted to meet an idol of mine and I wanted to remember it forever. Being as this was a convention and not some random encounter somewhere else, this would be the perfect opportunity. I even brought a few of my rare Jason Voorhees items for him to possibly sign like the 8 Bit Jason Toys R Us Exclusive and the SDCC exclusive Jason 8 Bit from NECA. I had all these things I wanted to discuss with him, about upcoming projects, my love for the Hatchet films, for Adam Green, for his particular portrayal of Jason Voorhees; but everything immediately went sour the first second he laid eyes on me.

Got an autograph, and glad I didn't pay for it.
As I stood in line with my girlfriend, who he'd already met several times earlier in the day (I arrived 6 hours later due to work), he noticed my Pink Floyd shirt. He says "Pink Floyd? You're too young to know who they are.". I replied "Well, I'm almost 40 years old, so not really.". When it was time for my photo, I asked if he could do something cool like pretend to crush my head or something. He said he could think of something as he grabs me really hard to physically turn me around for the picture, wrapping his arm around my neck to seem like he's choking me, only, he was really choking me. Somewhat surprised as I tried to catch my breath, I mentioned how I recently discovered the Hatchet films and love them to death in my haze. I don't remember what he said in reply. Throughout the next two days he would wonder over to our booth to flirt with my girlfriend and any other female nearby, always giving me the stink eye it seemed. On one occasion as he was talking to my girlfriend, which I didn't mind at all. I mean, if Kane Hodder wants to hit on my girlfriend, I'd be proud. As I tried to squeeze past the guy running the booth next to us, Hodder grabs the back of my neck with so much force, I thought I was being assaulted. He grabs my shoulder with his other hand and shoves me against the guy I was trying to squeeze past, knocking both of us over. He immediately reacts as if nothing happened, jokingly of course. When I compose myself, I tell him "That wasn't cool man". He played it off with some kind of joking remark and walked away.
my

It seemed to me that he felt the constant need to impress the females by proving how big and strong he was and how small I am. I'll admit, I'm a little guy, being only 5'5 and skinny. I have an insane metabolism, so I've just always been this way, no matter how much I exercise or eat. I am in shape though, so I'm not a lanky skinny. I do my best to exercise every day doing something, whether it be push-ups, pull-ups, or lifting weights. Yet here we are, at a Horror Convention, where people are here to see "you", and instead of being gracious, or even somewhat endearing, you act like you're 15 years old bullying a much smaller man for no other reason than to show off. I'm not sure where all that came from. Maybe he saw an easy target and went with it. I'm the most non-confrontational guy on the planet. I did nothing but smile every time I saw him, including the weird random moments when I would look up from whatever I was doing and noticed him staring at me. Maybe he was having a bad weekend? Maybe he liked my girlfriend and didn't like the fact that I was there? Or maybe he's just a bully who likes picking on little guys? Who knows? All that is to say is that when it comes right down to it, he was a bully, and a jerk, and my respect for the guy is gone.

As I was posting my weird and awkward encounters on social media as it happened, a lot of the comments were "He's a great guy", "I met him once, cool guy", "Awesome guy!". I'm sure he is, when you meet him for 2 whole minutes as he signs an autograph for you. When you spend a considerable amount of time with the guy as I did, it's a totally different story.

On the flipside, Andrew Bryniarski, who played Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Remake as well as the prequel titled The Beginning, was there with Bob Elmore, who also played Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, though IMDB lists Bill Johnson as playing Leatherface in that film......weird. Bryniarski was crazy, but a very likable and humble guy. He did a Q & A panel with Elmore, though Bryniarski did most of the talking as Elmore sat there like he was annoyed having to be there. Bryniarski, on the other hand, thanked the crowd that gathered to hear him speak repeatedly, and I lost count how many times he said that he appreciated everyone that came to the convention, that spent their hard earned money, and that came to support him. That's class.

I refused to give Hodder anymore of my hard-earned money so buying an autograph was out of the question. A friend of mine had my back though, and graciously flirted her way to a free autograph for me, because despite all this, my love for his work will remain the same. He'll always be my favorite Jason, and his portrayal of Victor Crowley in the Hatchet films is one of the reasons why I love that franchise so much. I'll continue to support his projects, and I'll continue to watch his films. But my respect for him is gone and that's just sad.