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Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part II

2 Aug

The first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series work at varying degrees of success. The first film is a riot that boasted some excellent special effects, the second film overuses slapstick, but provides enough entertainment to have some fun. The third film was kind of a departure and worked with a more serious approach, which felt kind of funky at times, but I still loved the zombie action and special effects. Now we enter the world of direct-to-DVD where no one is safe and you really never know what you’re going to get. That being said, lower your expectations to the most basic settings and let’s see what these movie have to offer.

Both films were shot back to back and released in 2005, with the first being Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis.

Julian (John Keefe) knows his Uncle Charles (Peter Coyote) is into some shady business at his job in the multibillion corporation known as Hybra Tech, but he isn’t quite sure how deep down the rabbit hole he is. One day, Julian’s friend, Zeke (Elvin Dandel), injures himself in a motocross accident and is taken to the hospital but declared dead before he even arrives. Julian and his group of friends soon find out that isn’t the case and he has in fact been taken to Hybra Tech for testing and experimentation. The gang decides the best idea is to break into the company’s headquarters and rescue Zeke. While there, they find evidence that Charles and Hybra Tech has been experimenting with the deadly Trioxin gas to create zombies to use as ultra powerful bio-weapons. One thing leads to another and the experimental zombies are on the loose in Hybra Tech which forces everyone stuck inside to fight for their lives or join the undead horde.

I really don’t know where to begin here. This is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I do say it was a pleasure because I laughed out loud at the unabashed idiocy this narrative had to offer multiple times. First of all, the fact that a group of teenagers think it’s a good idea to use their extreme sport skills to break into a highly secured building is something that I can’t suspend my disbelief towards. They come up with this idea so fast and unanimously without any hesitation. They’re also really skilled with all types of firearms, which is really convenient since they’ll need all the help they can get when the zombies finally break out. Oh, right. The zombies. Yeah, it takes forever for more than two zombies at a time to be shown on screen. This is a low budget movie that went straight to DVD then to the SyFy channel, but my god, this movie drags on and on with the stupidest characters I’ve seen in a while.

There’s just so little logic used in this movie that it numbs the mind to such an excessive degree. One of these teenagers WORKS SECURITY AT HYBRA TECH. What did they think was going to happen with employees like a teenager and three other inexperienced hacks being the only line of defense for the Trioxin gas and a horde of zombies? Were the writers thinking about anything at all? When the zombies do start showing up and the action gets going, there are a few moments of fun, but how many fist fights with zombies are there gonna be? Why can the be so easily killed while the zombies in the first three films proved to be so difficult? I just have so many questions for the writers that I seriously don’t know where to begin.

I could go on and on about Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, but I just start running myself in circles with unanswered questions about direction, acting, editing, and how this could’ve been green lit in the first place. This is one of the most hilariously sloppy films I’ve ever seen and it completely besmirches the anarchic attitude of the first three films. This is so mind numbing and senseless that I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s good for a laugh considering how terrible it is, but do you really want to waste an hour and a half of your life that bad?

Final Grade: D-

Here we are at the last film of the series. I just want to take a moment to look back to 1985 when the first movie was released, and the impact it had on audiences looking for something to have fun with. We’ve gone from cult classic to this, and this here is the bottom of the barrel. You can just tell by the title: Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave.

A year after the events of Necropolis, Charles has the remaining Trioxin and plans to sell it to Russian Interpol agents whose job it is to destroy. Unfortunately, the Trioxin is released once again and the threat of a zombie apocalypse looms its undead head. Julian and Jenny (Jenny Mollen) find more Trioxin in Charles’ house and bring it to Cody (Cory Hardict) in the university science lab. It’s found that the Trioxin has similar elements as some hallucinogens, where Jenny’s raving DJ brother Jeremy (Cain Mihnea Manoliu) has the bright idea to try a bit of the Trioxin and sell it as a new street drug called “Z.” Much to Julian’s protests, the Trioxin is synthesized and sold to the students before the rave, and it doesn’t take long for the real effects of the gas to show. Now it’s up to Julian, his friends, a duo of bumbling Interpol agents to save the world from certain zombie doom.

This movie is the purest of garbage. It’s such an insult to what this series once was and the craft of film making in general. Let’s talk about the most glaring problem Rave to the Grave has, and there are plenty of them. I’ve never seen a movie with such a huge problem maintaining continuity. Ok, that’s not quite true. The Pink Panther movies are all over the place, but at least those films are enjoyable. This one has the audacity to name the characters the same names but completely wipe their memories of what they saw in Necropolis. Why are they surprised and completely unprepared when it comes to zombies? Why is Cody being such a jerk and fooling with Trioxin gas like he has no idea what it is? Why is Julian still living with his Uncle Charles? Is there any attempt to maintain continuity at all? I was so confused at first, not knowing if this was a sequel or what. I still don’t know, but why should I even care?

The creators of this film also try really hard to bring comedy more to the foreground with this movie and it’s an absolute failure. The comedic relief comes with the Interpol agents, but the extent of their humor comes from misunderstanding each other and shooting someone by accident while yelling “SORRY!” It’s the basest kind of comedy there is and a far cry away from the biting humor of the original film. We also just have characters that make the worst decisions of all time. Like, “We found this chemical in my uncle’s attic, so let’s synthesize it and sell it as a drug, or, “Let’s just fire our weapons in a crowd full of innocent people.” These have to be the dumbest people I’ve ever seen in a movie. I wish I could say their acting at least saved their characters a little bit, but I can’t. The acting is awful. That’s enough about that.

Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real stinkers in my time. There’s nothing funny about it, there’s nothing even remotely scary, and much like the last film it’s just plain boring. What started out as such a fun series has devolved into this, and there’s really no redeeming it at this point. This film deserves the lowest grade I can possibly give, and that’s exactly what it’s gonna get.

Final Grade: F

These last two films are a huge disappointment in an otherwise solid series. The first three films are certainly worth the time of any fan of the horror genre. These last two, however, shouldn’t even deserve to exist. There’s barely anything worthwhile in Necropolis and nothing in Rave to the Grave. Skip these two entirely.

The Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part 1

14 Jul

Zombie films, at this point, seem to have been done to death. There was a time however, where messing with the formula was providing audiences with some new and exciting content, and one of the most popular blends of genres just so happens to be the horror/comedy. Enter Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a cult classic from 1985 called The Return of the Living Dead, which despite what the title will have you believe, is not related to George Romero’s series of films. It didn’t end there however, with four sequels being spawned to create a series that has lasted over a couple decades, with varying results of course. In this review, I’m going to be looking at the first three and will finish up with the last two in the second part.

Let’s kick this off with O’Bannon’s cult smash.

Freddy (Thom Matthews) is a bumbling punk kid who just got a job at a medical supply warehouse and is being trained by the equally bumbling foreman, Frank (James Karen). While trying to impress the new hire, Frank shows Freddy a container in the basement which contains a corpse and a toxic gas, which was part of an experiment that reanimated the dead and inspired George Romero to make Night of the Living Dead. After fiddling with the container, it springs a leak which released the toxic gas into the warehouse and reanimates the corpse within it. After calling their boss, Burt (Clu Gulager), to help destroy the corpse with the mortician next door, Ernie (Don Calfa), the groups actions poison the rain outside that is falling over a cemetery which causes all of the dead resting there to come back to life. Of course, a group of Freddy’s friends happen to be loitering there at the time and make a quick escape to the mortuary. From this location, the group must get innovative with their surroundings if they are to survive, but chances begin to get slimmer and slimmer as members of their party start falling victim to the zombies.

The Return of the Living Dead is a special kind of movie. It’s just the right blend of horror and comedy that is so hard to come across. Everything from the poster to the characters and even the way the zombies are design and behave just scream of a punk rock attitude, and that’s exactly what writer/director Dan O’Bannon was going for. It’s so funny to think that the mastermind behind the original Alien would go on to write and direct a movie like this. I’m not saying this is a bad movie at all, it’s just such a departure from what I’ve already seen of his work. So anyway, what this movie is is a comedy with horror elements, and boy can it be funny. What really helps the humor is that this movie takes place in a world where George Romero’s zombie films are around and just as popular. This fills the character’s heads with useless knowledge about zombies that don’t apply to these zombies in the least. In fact, the zombies from Return of the Living Dead are responsible for all the impressions of the undead that involved someone yelling “BRAAAAINS!” Even if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s reach still extends to you through the powers of cult film references that abound.

While The Return of the Living Dead holds up well as a comedy, it also has to hold up as a horror. In that respect, it also succeeds. This isn’t really a creepy movie, but more of what you’d expect from a zombie film. That’s lots of gore and some really great special effects, like on the Tarman zombie that hides in the basement of the warehouse. The other zombies also look great, with some really great make up and practical effects used to complete the illusion. I do have a couple minor complaints with the film as a whole however. For one thing, the set goes on for way too long and it really takes a while for the movie to really get going. Once it does, it’s off the walls, but I was surprised that so much time was used up in just laying the ground work of the story. A story that isn’t really that hard to understand, I might add. The ending also isn’t that spectacular. It is admittedly funny and does work with the nihilistic punk sensibilities, but it all happens way too fast and then the credits just begin to roll. Kind of an odd way to end the film, but it does leave me wanting more.

The Return of the Living Dead shouldn’t have to be compared with something like Dawn of the Dead, but it is possible. This isn’t a perfect zombie film, but it does reinvent the formula in such a way that makes it stand out from the massive amount of other works in this subgenre of horror. This is also a really funny film with a cast of faces you will probably recognize from some other cult favorites. The make up and effects are on point and the gore will leave any horror fan satisfied. If some of the pacing and storytelling issues were cleaned up, you’d have something close to being a perfect horror comedy. Even with those flaws, The Return of the Living Dead has rightfully succeeded in standing the test of time.

Final Grade: B

When The Return of the Living Dead proved to be a critical and box office success, it’s pretty easy to look back now and see that a sequel was inevitable, only this time without Dan O’Bannon. Instead, Lorimar Pictures took a script by Ken Wiederhorn and said they would fund it if he turned the story into a sequel of Return of the Living Dead. He did just that, despite wanting to get out of the horror genre, and it’s certainly weaker than the first film but it isn’t without its charms.

After a barrel of Trioxin falls off of a military transport truck and lands in the river a small town, it’s pretty clear that something very bad is going to happen. After being bullied by a group of neighborhood kids, Jesse (Michael Kenworthy), and his tormentors find the barrel and accidentally open it. Jesse was long gone at that point, but the other two kids weren’t so lucky. Meanwhile, two inept grave robbers, Joey (Thom Mathews) and Ed (James Karen), witness firsthand the dead begin to rise from their graves after a rainstorm sends the gaseous Trioxin underground. Joey and Ed soon meet up with Jesse, his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), and their cable man Tom (Dana Ashbrook), who have also been slowly learning the truth about the undead crisis. With the military surrounding and barricading the town, this unlikely group of heroes have to fight for their lives against the zombies at any moment while also looking for anyway to stop this disaster before it gets any further.

The first thing I noticed about this movie is that it’s shameless about ripping off major plot points of its predecessor. If you go into this movie expecting a sequel that builds off of the events of the first film, then you’ll be let down by this movie on a major level. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a watered down retelling of the first film on a bigger scale. While the first film just took place in a very contained area, this one takes place in an entire town. This change doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie and it just makes the zombies seem stretched thinner. The first movie was tight and made it a lot harder to avoid the undead, where in this one there’s plenty of places to hide. The humor in this one is also watered down big time, which was done in order to attract a wider audience. This backfired miserably since it only made $9.2 million while the original grossed $14.2 million. The zombies in this movie are utter buffoons. This choice sacrifices the wit and anarchic attitude of the first film for zombies that fall all over each other and just meet whacky demises. I really did miss the clever dialogue and original humor that the original offered, but there were still some laughs to be had in this sequel.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t an entertaining movie. It definitely had its moments, and they can’t be forgotten just for the sake of railing on the film. The kid that played Jesse was actually very good and it was fun to see Thom Mathews and James Karen practically revive their roles, even though other actors probably could have been chosen. James Karen is absolutely hilarious though, and its a better movie with him in it. There’s also some really good special effects that stand up well with the effects of the original film. Return of the Living Dead Part II is a very light hearted film that relies way more on the comedy than the horror, instead of finding a balance between the two. This is a pretty bad movie, but it’s a bad movie that’s easy to like just for its absurdity and self awareness. Just don’t go into this movie expecting quality.

Final Grade: C-

Return of the Living Dead Part II was the last of the series to be released in the 1980s, and also the last to have a wide release in theaters. In 1993, Return of the Living Dead 3 was released in select theaters and admittedly has the worst box office results of the first three films. Other than financially, how well does it hold up with the others that came before it.

After stealing his father’s high class military key card, Curtis (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend, Julie (Melinda Clarke) sneak onto an army base and witness a group of scientists and officers reanimate a corpse with the Trioxin gas. Col. John Reynolds (Kent McCord), Curtis’ father, is part of the project and when it ultimately fails he is reassigned to another state, much to the devastation of Curtis. Curtis decides he isn’t going to leave and runs off with Julie, but the two get into a motorcycle accident that kills Julie. Curtis soon realizes that he still has the key card and uses it to get back onto the base to reanimate his girlfriend. As the two lovers start realizing that this new life (or afterlife in Julie’s case) isn’t going to be easy, Julie’s need for human flesh and brains causes an out of control situation of undead flesh eaters that could cause the next apocalypse if not contained quickly.

The mood of Return of the Living Dead 3 is way different from the mood of the first and second. The first film is a witty dark comedy/horror film while the sequel is mostly an exercise in slapstick. This entry totally does away with the comedy, while still retaining the sense of punk rock, even more so than the second film. I’ll get into the positives of that later, but I do want to focus on some of the not so great elements of this movie. For one thing, it’s kinda boring. Compared to the craziness of the first two, this entry is really tame. I could easily count the number of zombies in this movie and there’s never really a moment where they seemed to be overpowering anyone. Zombies work best as a horde, not a clump. We’re also meant to really buy the romance between Curtis and Julie, but Curtis is such a selfish idiot, it’s really hard to root for him in any circumstance. I ended up feeling bad for Julie having to be stuck with him and his awful ideas.

As a whole, though, this is a pretty solid movie. It isn’t anything grand, but it has some strong redeeming qualities. For one thing, and this is probably the most obvious thing to praise, Julie’s design for when she gets progressively deeper into “zombie mode,” if you will, is awesome. This make up and costume design is an under appreciated gem of the horror genre, and it’s something that needs to be revisited. This film also feels like it can stand on its own. The second film relied on the first one so much that it felt like a crutch. Return of the Living Dead 3 has its own style, mood, and storyline that is, for the most part, completely its own and unique. I also have to once again give props to the special effects department for once again showing that practical effects is the only way to successfully craft a zombie film.

As I already said, Return of the Living Dead 3 is a solid movie that does have some major flaws which will surely annoy viewer. It’s a tad boring and feels much smaller and less suspenseful than a zombie movie should. It does, however, have a cool concept to work with and it does try to make its two leads something more than just generic horror characters. This isn’t a movie that will ever be seen as a classic, but it does have some neat effects and costume design. For fans of the genre, I’d say give it a try.

Final Grade: C

So there’s the first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series and the only ones to be released in theaters. When I return with this series review, we’ll be heading back to the wonderful, yet often startlingly absurd world of direct to DVD.

Willow Creek – Review

4 Mar

In 1967, the Patterson-Gimlin Film was released, which appears to show a giant creature walking along a riverbed somewhere in the forests of California. This footage has been a favorite amongst the cryptozoological community and has been said this is the proof of the existence of Bigfoot, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When I heard that Bobcat Goldthwait was going to be making a found footage horror film that explores the lore of Bigfoot, I was at the same time confused and intrigued. It’s been over three years since the film’s release, but I’ve just gotten around to seeing it, and I have to say that I’m more than a little surprised. Willow Creek is a suspenseful and often frightening film that is full of sharp dialogue, two rich lead characters, and a third act that provided me with some chilling moments.

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Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot enthusiast who decides to head to the area of Willow Creek and Bluff Creek to make his own documentary on the Patterson-Gimlin footage and his own attempts to find the area and possibly run into Bigfoot. Along for the ride is his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), who is an adamant denier of the creature, but also wants to support Jim in his efforts to shoot his film. The two finally arrive in Willow Creek and spend some time interviewing locals who have has some sort of encounter with Sasquatch, but some also warn them not to go into the woods. Despite the warnings, Jim and Kelly enter the woods where it is believed Bigfoot resides, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are no longer hunting for Bigfoot, but it’s Bigfoot that’s hunting them.

So let’s get what I wasn’t a huge fan of out of the way first. For one thing, this is a pretty standard found footage movie when it comes to certain beats and the structure of the narrative. I knew pretty much exactly how the movie was going to play out and, for the most part, I was right. It even has the horror cliché of locals telling the main characters not to go somewhere, and then, of course, they go anyway. Shocker. I also just wanted a little bit more from this movie. This can also be seen as something of a compliment because I was really enjoying the movie and I wanted more of it. If another 10 or 15 minutes were added to it, I would have been thankful for it. I’m all for leaving things kind of ambiguous, and that shouldn’t change, nor do I want any more that what is shown, but a couple more scenes to build up some extra tension would have been much appreciated.

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There’s a lot more to like in Willow Creek than I would’ve ever thought. For one thing, the two main characters are very well thought out and feel genuine. They have a past and a future and it’s briefly explored through dialogue to give them more weight. They aren’t just living in the now of the movie. This makes what happens to them later on in the movie even more intense because they’ve been developed so much that we want them to escape the terrors of the woods. Goldthwait also made the smart choice to make this a slow burn of a horror film. The first 40 minutes or so may seem boring on the surface, but I didn’t find them so at all. It took its time building up the characters, the town and its inhabitants, and the lore of Bigfoot. It’s a sharply written film that is just as sharp in its execution.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the last third of this movie. Holy hell, is it something else. Put yourself in these characters’ positions. Stuck in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night with your only protection being the tent that you’re sleeping in. There’s a 20 minute long take of the couple sitting in the tent and listening to the bone chilling sounds happening outside, like footsteps and howls getting closer and closer to the tent. As this is all happening, their efforts to talk themselves down become futile. The suspense is almost too much and when Willow Creek finally explodes, it will leave you tired. It perfectly utilizes the idea that less is more and what the imagination creates, especially in this atmosphere, can be even more horrifying than anything that exists.

When this movie came out just a few years ago, found footage movies were still over saturating the market, so the only way to do the genre right is to create something special. I think Willow Creek is a special kind of horror movie. It has a tight script with witty dialogue and fully realized characters, but also a really courageous move to make a scene of suspense happen inside a tent during a 20 minute long shot. This is a very impressive film that would have been made even better if some more was added to the story or if some of the derivative moments were removed. Even with these small problems, Willow Creek stands, to me, as an under appreciated gem of modern horror.

Final Grade: B+

An American Werewolf in London & An American Werewolf in Paris – Review

15 Dec

I gotta be honest, werewolf movies really aren’t my cup of tea. There’s something about them that just strike me as kind of silly, but I guess that can be said about a lot of classic monsters. One of the most iconic werewolf films is John Landis’ horror/comedy An American Werewolf in London. Over the years this film has become known as a cult classic due to its wit, blending of genres, and it’s outstanding practical special effects. Like many horror movies that have come before and after, a sequel was released, An American Werewolf in Paris, years after the original. This one has received the opposite kind of attention and it seems that people just want to forget about it. Today, I’m going to be looking at both of them and giving my own thoughts.

Let’s start with John Landis’ original film from 1981.

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David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are two American college students backpacking through England. After being warned by locals to “beware the moon” and “stay on the road,” the two end up getting lost and attacked by a large animal. Jack is killed and David is injured, waking up in a hospital three weeks later. At the hospital, David meets nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter) and the two form a relationship with David eventually staying at her apartment. Throughout this time, David is plagued with bad dreams and is getting visits from Jack’s slowly decaying corpse who explains that he has been infected with the werewolf’s curse, and if he doesn’t die then all of the werewolf’s victims are doomed to walk the earth in limbo and more people will die because of David. David doesn’t know what to believe until the night of the full moon when he first transforms into a werewolf and begins a bloody spree throughout the city of London.

Horror and comedy often time go hand in hand. When I’m watching a really scary movie and something just frightens me more than I thought it would, I often find myself laughing at both myself and the incident that happened onscreen. This is why horror/comedies also blend dark humor and horror so well. An American Werewolf in London is one of the classics of the horror/comedy genre. This is a very lighthearted movie and at no time does it ever really take itself too seriously. Even when things do start getting more intense towards the end, the film adopts this over the top brutal slapstick that is more funny then actually scary. What is taken very seriously, however, is the outstanding make up and special effects work. Rick Baker, who previously worked on Star Wars, does amazing work with the famous transformation scene and also creating monsters and walking corpses that appear throughout the movie. Baker’s also the first person to win the Academy Award for Best Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which was a new award the year of this film’s release.

With all of the cool werewolf effects and dark humor at the forefront, there are some elements that get pushed aside. For one thing, the characters in the movie are nothing all that special. David and Jack are both fine characters, but what’s really memorable about them is the situation they’re in. The ending of the movie also can define the term “anti-climactic.” While I was being critical of how the story was being told with some scenes not seeming to go anywhere in particular, I had time to admire how much like a classic Universal monster movie An American Werewolf in London felt like. Everything from the foggy countryside to the pub in the beginning with the cautious villagers to the relationship that grows between David and Alex. You can really see how much John Landis was inspired by those movies to create a classic of his own.

An American Werewolf in London has become a shining example of horror/comedy and the work that can be achieved with practical special effects. It’s a darkly funny story of a fish out of water that also happens to be a werewolf. I only wish that the story could have been tightened up a little bit and the ending made into something more memorable. Still, any fan of horror movies or even comedies will have a lot of fun with this film and see why it’s considered a modern cult classic.

Final Grade: B+

Sixteen years after the release of An American Werewolf in London, the sequel titled An American Werewolf in Paris was released and was met with pretty overwhelming negative results. After seeing it for myself, I’m comfortable jumping on that bandwagon.

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Andy McDermott (Tom Everett Scott) and his two friends are traveling Europe looking for excitement and girls. When the trio arrive in Paris, Andy chooses the Eiffel Tower for his next base jumping stunt and ends up saving a woman, Sérafine (Julie Delpy), from jumping off and killing herself. After this heroic act, Andy and Sérafine get more involved with each other, but the relationship gets more than a little complicated when it is revealed that she is a werewolf who, along with her step father, has been working on a cure for their curse. On the opposite side of Sérafine are a group of werewolves, led by the vicious Claude (Pierre Cosso), who want to reverse engineer the cure and use it as a way to transform anytime they want to.

Compared to the original film, this one is completely outrageous. The positives of An American Werewolf in London that helped it become a cult classic is its charm, simplicity in story, and the remarkable practical effects. All of this is completely absent in An American Werewolf in Paris. This film has all the charm of a bargain bin sex comedy and special effects that are guaranteed to cause belly laughs. It’s hard to even call this movie a sequel because at first glance, there’s nothing to really connect it to the original film. It was only after reading up on the film a little bit did I realize there’s an absurd connection that is teetering a very fine line of making sense. What we have here is more of an absurd remake than an actual sequel, but calling this a remake would be an insult to the original. My best guess is that this movie is simply a cash grab that’s riding on the name and popularity of Landis’ classic.

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There really isn’t a whole lot to say that isn’t painfully obvious once you actually watch the movie. I’m not sure who thought that the idea of making the plot to this movie as contrived as it is was a good idea, but they couldn’t have been in their right mind. Amongst all of the negativity, I will say that Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy seem to be doing their best, but a lot of the lines they deliver that’s meant to be funny are cringe worthy at best. When people finally do start turning into werewolves, which feels like forever with the “character building” scenes, they aren’t anything impressive at all. In fact, the look unfinished and out of place. There are a few instances of practical effects which are welcome, but they’re so few and far between.

The bottom line is that this isn’t a movie anyone should see even if they are fans of werewolf movies. It takes the same ideas as John Landis’ film and presents them in a much weaker way without the wit and charm that should come with a movie that’s related to An American Werewolf in London. Just stay away from An American Werewolf in Paris and your brain cells have a better chance of staying intact.

Final Grade: D

There you have it. An American Werewolf in London is a cult classic that deserves all of the praise it receives whereas the sequel is a disaster disguised as a horror/comedy. Like I said before, I’m not a huge fan of werewolf movies, but An American Werewolf in London is just too much fun to pass up.

Sheitan – Review

7 May

Some of my favorite horror movies come out of France. For example, there’s the more modern horror flick High Tension, but also a more classic example like Eyes Without a Face. That’s what brings us to the French horror/dark comedy Sheitan. I was first interested in this movie when I saw that Vincent Cassel was playing the psychotic villain, a role that I have yet to see him play to this degree. Developed by an underground group of French videographers, Sheitan is a movie that is made exactly how the developers wanted it to be made and without any major interference from studios. The end result is something disturbing, hilarious, and unique.

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While at a Parisian night club Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), and Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan) meet two girls, Eve (Roxane Mesquida) and Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). After Bart gets kicked out of the club, Eve invites everyone back to her family’s mansion in the country where they can continue the party for as long as they want to. Upon their arrival, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), the groundskeeper that tends to the house for Eve’s family. As the day goes on, Joseph introduces the group to the people of the village who are all some sort of demented, but things get even weirder that night when they all go home for dinner and it becomes clear that Joseph has something sinister in mind for all of them.

This is one hell of a bizarre movie, and for that reason I give it a lot of credit. It’s a great blend of horror and comedy while still sustaining an ominous atmosphere throughout its entire run time. The story is told in a very weird way, which I will return to later, but I was compelled to stay with this movie until the end. Sheitan slowly but surely leads you on and drops a few clues here and there as to what Joseph has up his sleeve for the unsuspecting group of friends. That being said, this movie also works as a mystery of sorts because the whole time I was trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on. When I finally figured it out, it was so rewarding because I got to see my theory play out in front of me.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was to see Vincent Cassel act like a lunatic, and he sure delivers a memorable performance. In fact, I might say it’s one of my favorite horror performances. There are times where I no longer saw Cassel, but was sure that the character of Joseph had completely taken over. The constant smile that is smeared across his face is made even more eerie by the face crooked teeth Cassel wore for filming. Much like the entirety of Sheitan, Cassel is both horrifying and hilarious. I also have to give credit to the rest of the cast for adding an extra layer of character. Each person felt different and important to the story.

Now, the way the story is told felt very odd. It seemed like for a very long time, nothing was really happening. In fact, the movie only starts getting really intense during the third act. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it made me feel like I was being led along this dark, winding path to some conclusion that I couldn’t even imagine. On the other hand, I started to feel just a little bored towards the middle of the movie. I’m still pleased that the film makers decided to take their time telling the story. Even though there were some boring moments, they never bogged the movie down and I feel like they still helped create a feeling of suspense that made me have to know what happened next.

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Without knowing anything about it before watching it, I can say that Sheitan is a wonderfully underrated movie. It doesn’t even seem to have garnered a cult following, even though it definitely deserves one. It not only works as a grotesque piece of horror, but also a dark comedy full of complete lunacy. The art design and cinematography was even impressive. To all the horror fans out there who are looking for something off the beaten path, Sheitan may be just what you’re looking for.

Fright Night (1985) – Review

30 Aug

Imagine a world where vampires were still not the bud of jokes. Lets face it. Vampires are overused in the horror genre, and also have bled (no pun intended) into genres that they don’t even belong in. That isn’t to say that all modern vampire films aren’t cool, but they can be few and far between. Making light of the over usage of vampires can actually be a fun thing, too. Just look at Tom Holland’s 1985 film Fright Night. This movie has become a cult classic in the horror genre, but to call it purely horror would be a lie. It’s an excellent blend of comedy and horror mixed with a true love of everything terrifying, and is proud of its roots in classic Hammer films and anything worthy of a scream.

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Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is nor stranger to horror movies, with his nights spent staying up late to catch cheesy horror movies on t.v., hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), an aging actor in Hammer-esque horror movies. You’d think that given the opportunity to face the supernatural would mean a lot to someone like Charley, but when his new neighbor, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), turns out to be a vampire responsible for dozens of murders, he is anything but thrilled. Charley doesn’t find any help with the police or his family, but his friends Amy (Amanda Peterson) and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) gives him the benefit of the doubt and convinces Peter Vincent to help Charley, who has the utmost faith in the t.v. star’s ability to hunt vampires. What happens next is Charley’s and Peter’s showdown with the supernatural that won’t end pretty.

Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and enjoy it immensely for what it is. Most of these movies serve to startle or create some sort of reaction of fear with the audience. On the other hand, there are some horror movies that just seem to be made for fans of horror movies. What I mean by that is that there are some movies that are just so full of in jokes, references, allusions, and recreations that will make any horror dork squeal with delight. This is the case with Fright Night, Much like Tom Holland’s later film Child’s Play, this film is purely meant to bring joy to fans. It isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s one of the most entertaining “horror movies” you’ll ever see. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a comedy more than it is a horror film.

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I’ve written quite a bit of reviews on Hammer horror films, and have firmly stated that they are some of my favorite examples of how to make a scary movie. It seems that Tom Holland feels the same way, as this movie quite literally looks and feels like a Hammer film from the 1960 or 1970s. Even the name Peter Vincent is not only a nod to Vincent Price, but also Hammer icon Peter Cushing. There’s another scene that takes place in Peter Vincent’s apartment where the room is filled with horror memorabilia. There’s a painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, a bust of Count Olaf’s head from the remake of Nosferatu, and if you look hard enough you can see the mask that Roddy McDowell wore in Planet of the Apes. There’s another scene that carefully recreates an iconic scene from The Exorcist. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of watching Fright Night is spotting all of the homages that Holland wrote in, but that’s not all, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, though, is putting it all together. It’s a fantastic combination of horror and comedy that can actually be a tricky thing to pull off. I’ve heard people say that all horror has a touch of comedy since laughter helps keep people unafraid, but Fright Night is legitimately hilarious. The acting is good across the board, but Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon (whose character I refer to as the Vampire Humperdink, thanks to The Princess Bride) really own their roles. You can see how much fun they’re having in the way they perform their roles. They both ham things up quite appropriately. Finally, while there may not be too many special effects shots, all of them are memorable and some of the make up is just downright fantastic.

Fright Night is an example of exemplary horror film making. While there was really only one scene that made me jump, it’s still incredibly well made altogether. What has to be remembered is that this film is a horror/comedy and is meant to be laughed at. For fans of horror, it’s a must see for so many different reasons. Hell, even if you hate horror movies, this one may just be worth your time.

The Cremator – Review

4 Jul

Back when I was in college, I took a few film history courses and in one of them we watched scenes from this Czechoslovakian film The Cremator. They were pretty startling scenes, because they combined humor, horror, and mind blowing cinematography almost perfectly. I never thought I’d actually be able to track down a copy, but it was finally released to worldwide audiences just a few years ago, after almost 40 years. Thankfully, I can say that this movie didn’t disappoint me at all, and it didn’t just contain a few good scenes. The entire movie, for the most part, is solid and it is a fantastic example, if not THE example, of Eastern European surrealism.

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Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínsky) is a cremator at a local crematorium in Prague. What’s unusual about Mr. Kopfrkingl is that he doesn’t look at his job as just a job, but a duty that goes beyond the physical realm. He believes that cremating those who have died releases their spirit into the ether faster than it would go if they decomposed naturally, and it is his responsibility to end the dead’s suffering as soon as possible. When the Nazis begin to make their way into the Czech government in the late 1930s, Kopfrkingl is introduced to the ideals of the party, taking his ideologies about suffering and the releasing of souls to the next level. It also allows some of his more secret and deep urges to be unleashed.

It’s difficult to put into words just how strange and unsettling this movie is, but I’m certain;y going to try. While this film is an example of surrealism, it is also a prime example of Czech New Wave, which was taking over their cinemas in the 1960s and early 1970s. One of the trademarks of this kind of film making is dark and absurd humor, which The Cremator has a lot of. While it’s a very funny film, it’s also a horrific film that deals with heavy thematic material and an awful view of history. I felt like I was being dragged across a line between laughing and cringing that lasted the entire movie, but that’s exactly the effect that was desired.

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I can’t say this about most movies, but I can sure say it about this one. You don’t have to even watch this movie with the sound on to enjoy it. This is one of the most technically proficient movies I’ve ever seen, even without it going overboard. The editing and juxtaposition of different images tells a story about the characters without them even needing to say a word. One of the most talked about scenes in the movie is the very first scene where characters’ faces are quickly cut together with the mouths and eyes of animals in the zoo. A lot of the film is also shot through fish eye and wide angle lenses to distort the faces of the characters especially in the most intense of situations. It’s a masterpiece of film making and should be taught in schools all around the world, especially in terms of editing.

Other than just how great the movie looks, it also has a haunting story to tell about someone who is already disturbed pushed to his furthest point because of the Nazi regime. Taking this movie as a character study of Karl is probably how the movie should be watched. Sure it tells a story of history, but it’s how history shapes this particular person is what’s really interesting. The so called “justified” violence going on around him justifies his own violent desires, which helps him believe he’s still doing the proper thing. This makes you feel even stranger when you start laughing at some of the things he says or does.

The Cremator works as a horror movie, a dark comedy comedy, and a brilliant character study. It’s slowly becoming more and more recognized, as it should, since it is such a startling and jarring film, but also one that is significant in Czech film history. It will be my new mission to get as many people as I can to see this movie, even though it’s one that leaves you feeling a little weird way before it’s even close to being over.