Sunday, October 31, 2010

TV Scum: The Walking Dead — Days Gone Bye

Anticipation was pretty high for The Walking Dead after information kept trickling out about the cast, the producers, and of course the involvement of Frank Darabont. After being teased for months with a five minute preview, various zombie images, and only a passing familiarity with the source comic, I am extremely happy (if not at all surprised) that the premiere episode of Dead was damn near perfect.

Of course, being that this is just the first part of a six-episode season, we are just getting started with the introductions to the zombie apocalypse. I’m happy that we are treated to the necessary exposition in random bits and phrases as opposed to an entire episode as we are kept on the same level as our protagonist Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) who has literally just stumbled out of a hospital ward into hell on earth. When he is rescued from certain doom by Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son Duane (catch the reference?), Rick is thrust headfirst into this new world, one which his wife and son are missing in.

Desolate and destroyed metropolitan areas are always an impactful image in a post-apocalyptic world and we are treated to see how the world has become as it is overrun with zombies. Some of the more quiet scenes like when Rick approaches Atlanta on horseback or searches for gas in a previous makeshift refugee camp are haunting, not in the overt images but in the allusions that they bring as we see childrens’ toys laying unattended in a lot of deserted cars. I have no doubt that the relationship issues (for a number of involved characters) that normally drag down many narratives will be handled gracefully and relevantly over the next few installments.

From a production standpoint, I could buy this as just one part of an ongoing cinematic series as all of the locations, props, and special effects are chillingly effective and mostly superior to even a theatrical movie around the same subject matter. Darabont’s involvement no doubt escalates what could have been (or honestly still could be) a cheesy, clunky story to an epic journey of the human spirit set in the most trying of times, not unlike the miniseries The Stand from many moons ago.

All of the naysayers who cry foul over the similar opening to 28 Days Later can piss off as the medium of weekly installments hint to some great things to come over the next month.

BONUS: Zombie Kill of the Week
In keeping with Zombieland’s television origins, I declare that the zombie kill of the week goes to ‘Little Girl in Bunny Slippers’. It was a toss up between her and ‘Legless Zombie’ but the little girl wins as not only is she is our first look at a zombie in the series but also one of the most painful to see a teddy bear-clutching preteen get blown away. Kudos to the crew (and AMC) for not skimping on the emotional stuff.

Random Movie: Day of the Woman (I Spit on Your Grave 1978)

Written by: PBF

After watching this film and reflecting on it, I feel robbed. I feel like there should have been several hundred different things I should have felt that I did not. Similarly to my experience watching Feed, I felt like the subject matter of I Spit on Your Grave was treated with indifference.

Jennifer is spending the summer in the country writing her first novel. She has rented a house by a lake. She stops at a gas station and the attendant is quite friendly. There are a couple of locals entertaining themselves over in the grass. When she arrives at the house she has some groceries delivered, and the delivery man is also very nice, and might be a little slow. What I assume is a result of a combination of boredom, sweltering heat and backwoods inbreeding, this group of men violently beat and rape Jennifer at 3 different locations and leave her for dead. This is something that they will soon regret in a terribly boring, anti-climactic fashion.

Technically, this really isn't horror by normal standards. I mean, the events are horrible, which is why I categorize it as such, but there isn't a whole lot of blood, that much violence (outside of the rape) and there is no tension whatsoever. It's funny, though. There was no music in the film, except when actual music was playing on a stereo or something like that. I found this to be an interesting choice, because it would make any scares or tense moments organic, without music to tell you when to be frightened or when to jump. But those things never happened. It was like a lazy walk through a few weeks of events and then a quick slip out the back unnoticed. The film even ended without warning, with Jennifer boating off in to the credits.

My main problem with this film is, I felt indifference toward every single character. Now, please do not misunderstand me, the crimes committed against this woman were heinous and vile and I hated the offenders while in the act. But there was really no characterization, and half the time I doubted that these guys really would have done these things, especially as the film went on. They kept making horrible decisions, like getting in the car with her after finding out that she was still alive. One of them takes a bath with her. I saw them think, they can rationalize things. How could they make these decisions?

So, Jennifer takes her revenge on each one of them, one by one. Each kill was preceded with such obvious ruse or what seemed like endless delay, they were completely void of any terror or surprise. They were no different than any other scene in the film, really. Also, due to the lack of any real character development, I almost just didn't give a shit if they lived or died. It was like watching robots do horrible things to each other and then trying to imagine what it would be like if the robots were humans.

I hope that the recent remake of this film does a much better job of what the original should have done. It should have scarred me, honestly. I should have been very upset, and then shouting with glee every time Jennifer killed someone. Instead, I was left relatively the same as I was before watching it.

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 31: Monsters (2010)

Written by: Digger

The role of a monster in storytelling is to be the manifestation of our fears and anxieties. The reason monsters come in so many varieties, (undead, giant beasts, aliens, demons, radioactive mutants) is because each one represents a different part of our world of which we are afraid. Zombies, vampires, and other humanoid monsters represent parts of the human condition and our own nature that we would rather not acknowledge. Aliens, on the other hand, represent our fears of things that are foreign and unfamiliar. As we are creatures of reason and define our world based on what we know, the unknown is a terrifying concept. The recent independent film Monsters tries to tap into both of these areas of the human psyche, with both alien creatures and with an unflattering portrayal of how society and governments deal with said giant aliens. The premise is that a U.S. Space probe returning to Earth carrying samples from one of Saturn’s moons crash landed in northern Mexico. What ever those samples were supposed to be, they had biological material in them that grew and developed in the wilds of Mexico and became giant octopus-spiders that are quite destructive. The whole northern half of Mexico is now under quarantine as an “infected zone” and the United States has constructed a massive wall along the Mexican boarder to prevent the monsters from entering the country. I think this is supposed to be some kind of allegory for America’s stance on illegal immigration, but within the context of what is happening in the movie building a giant wall to defend against dangerous monster attacks is a pretty sound idea.

The story centers around two Americans stranded on the wrong side of the infected zone. One is Andrew (Scoot McNairy) a photographer and the other is Samantha (Whitney Able) the over-privileged daughter of Andrew’s boss back in the states. Andrew is called from his journalistic endeavors to locate Samantha and escort her to a boat that will sail her around the infected zone so she can get married to some dude that is not important. While Andrew does get Samantha to the ferry safely, her incredibly overpriced ticket is stolen and there will be no other boats to take her home. Samantha then pawns her engagement ring for the money needed to hire a group to lead the two through the infected zone back to the U.S. boarder. Things do not go well as those hired to lead them through the jungles and ruined cities are killed off one night when a giant spidopus flattens their convoy. Andrew and Samantha now have to make it on foot by themselves back to the U.S. This movie is a great idea on paper and I was very excited when I heard the concept and that it was all being shot in a guerrilla style on a tiny budget with almost all of the extras being the residents of the various locations in which they filmed. There are only two complaints I can level at this movie, but they are big complaints. First, the actors that director Gareth Edwards got for the two leads, who must carrying the entire film, are not very well-layered or convincing actors. Many of the parts that should have been heavy moments when they were reacting to the vast amounts of devastation or witness to people being slaughtered by the creatures came off as stiff and amateurish. Their roles required a lot of subtlety, but Scoot and Whitney were just not experienced enough yet to handle such roles for a full ninety minutes. The second complaint is that the monsters in this film looked too much like a regular Earth octopus. These are supposed to be creatures that evolved in an entirely different ecosystem. Whoever was in charge of creature design really messed up here. I can see why it would be beneficial for the aliens to have traits that the human brain can recognize and relate to other things, but putting an octopus on stilts strikes me as lazy and uncreative.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 30: Alien Trespass (2009)

Written by: Digger

Some people consider 1950′s era drive-in science fiction a low point in American cinema. It is true that a lot of garbage came out of studios who green-lit half-hearted scripts because they included space aliens or nuclear energy in them. Although several well made classics came out in the same time span, the stigma of the B movie is a hard one to shake. While there is no reason to be ashamed of enjoying the cheese, what reason would anyone have in making a film now that is intentionally cheesy? A movie that is part bad-sci-fi celebration and part bad-sci-fi parody is Alien Trespass, the story of an invasion in 1950′s America. Eric McCormack plays Ted Lewis, an astronomer that one clear night in his home near a California desert, prepares a wedding anniversary celebration with his wife loving wife Lana (Jody Thompson). Ted sees a bright shooting star in the night sky, which turns out to be a flying saucer that crashes in the desert. On board the ship are two extraterrestrials. One is the dangerous Ghota, a tall, one-eyed, tentacled beast that was being escorted as a prisoner by Urp, a silvery humanoid that is very Gort-esque. Ghota escapes into the desert and begins on a plan to devour the locals so he can self replicate. Ted investigates the crash site, thinking it is a meteor, when he is confronted by Urp, who merges with Ted to better move about the town to locate Ghota. The next morning Urp, in the form of Doctor Lewis, returns to the Lewis household, acts really weird, and discovers that salt will harm the Ghota. Lana believes that her husband is suffering from some kind of illness or stress related condition, and does not believe his story about aliens and such.

At the same time, a trio of teens head into the desert to see what people in the town had reported as some kind of plane crash. Penny (Sarah Smyth) and Dick (Andrew Dunbar) stay in the car while Cody (Aaron Brooks) looks around for a bit. While Cody is gone, the young couple is attacked by the Ghota and, in an attempt to escape, run into a pair of local cops. In true B movie fashion, the two officers (one of which is played by Robert Patrick) are very skeptical and critical of the teen’s claims of being attacked by a creature, and the group is hauled off to the station. Meanwhile, Tammy (Jenni Baird) a waitress who is out driving on a errand, sees Urp as Ted walking down the side of a desert road. She pulls over to pick him up, and after a lengthy conversation where Urp discusses his home planet and his current dilemma, Tammy agrees to help him stop the Ghota. This film has a strange dichotomy to it, where it seems to want to take itself seriously on some level, but will also point at itself and laugh from time to time. If the film were going for humor all the time by being intentionally bad, then I feel it would be pointless as anyone can make a bad movie on purpose. Most people probably wouldn’t enjoy this film, but if you grew up on corny sci-fi like I did, then it’s a nice little treat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Random Movie: Saw 3D (2010)

As I sat to watch Saw 3D, I was worried that having not seen the last installment, the series’ reliance on retcons and alternate looks at previous events would prove challenging to keep up with. While finishing part six after the fact helped fill in some of the backstory, it had little bearing on my opinion of the allegedly final Saw film which was very disconnected from the previous entries. Even a brand new viewer to the series would have little difficulty understanding the plot yet be baffled by the shoddy quality in this hugely subpar installment in the Jigsaw saga.

Even with the return of director Kevin Greutert and writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, 3D feels more like a straight to DVD, half assed sequel than a legitmate follow up to a major theatrical series. Mostly gone is the intricate weaving of past events into a new narrative featuring Jigsaw’s traps to emphasize the preciousness of life. Of course, there is a B-side story of Bobby, a so-called survivor of one of Jigsaw’s previous games where he must choose between his family and friends who have made truckloads of money off of a fabicrated story. But unlike some of the better films, namely II and III, Bobby’s story has absolutely no bearing on the main events featuring Detective Hoffman and his cat and mouse game with Jigsaw’s ex Jill.

This actually feels more like a standard, cheap slasher film as the main motivation is Hoffman’s rage because Jill tried to kill him and has turned to a horrible caricature of a cop to expose his apprenticeship with Jigsaw. After the last, there really is not much more backstory, or even sidestory, to wring out as Jigsaw (clocking in with barely a few minutes of screentime), Amanda, and Hoffman’s experiences are mostly tapped out in the narrative sense. Thus, we have a movie that features traps like a Saw movie should but with characters that exist only to pad the running time until Hoffman can catch up to Jill to exact his revenge.

What should not be a shock if you follow movie news, Cary Elwes returns from oblivion as Dr. Gordon from the first but if you thought that his role would be more substantial than a quick cameo, you would be correct. While I do not wish to reveal his role, suffice to say you could probably figure it out even without seeing the movie. Even though the reveal technically makes sense, there was no indication or any clues sprinkled in previous films to back it up giving the impression that the writers just wanted to play to the fan favorites here. This also serves as one of the worst endings to a Saw film because it’s predictability seems to fly in the face of everything that has come before it in the series.

This fiasco with Gordon sums up my thoughts on the movie as everything here was not logical or necessary, but done likely because it was cool and something that fans were clamouring for. The opening trap was neat being that it was set outside in the midst of a big crowd of people but the fact that it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie is one thing, Jigsaw has gone from targeting murderers and drug dealers to a love triangle constructed by a deceitful woman who strings men along for affection. As you can see, one of these things is not like the other and I fully suspect this was designated as the last film because the next plot of torturing jaywalkers and customer service phone reps was not as compelling.

Of the cast, Costas Mandylor and Betsy Russell have had a few movies to get comfortable with their characters and turned in fairly decent performances and the faux-vivor Bobby was a sympathetic, if kind of otherwise flat, character played well by Sean Patrick Flannery. The rest of the cast, especially Chad Donella were pretty horrendous. Granted the first was saturated with Cary Elwes-brand overacting (he has barely improved, even with letting some of his natural accent slip through) so the bar was not set very high but it was painfully distracting to see Donella as a “seasoned” IAB detective with the mannerisms of a ten-year-old.

The biggest crime of Saw 3D is that everything was just a poor photocopy of the more decent moments of the series. In one of the villain’s final scenes of rage, he kills four people in a row in the least interesting way possible by a quick jab of a knife into their throats. The 3D was pretty good considering it seems randomly shoehorned into the series as a going-away present and to inflate ticket prices but it really did not serve much purpose. At the very least, it did not make the movie worse like bad 3D can but then again, the dumb random trap fodder characters did not really elevate things on their end either.

Random Movie: Saw VI (2009)

I hope that a possible explanation for the vastly inferior Saw V was due to effort being withheld on that film to more finely hone this installment. The chasm of quality in the middle film between IV and VI is so abrupt from the previous efforts that on some level it almost has to be intentional. Writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are able to effectively right the Saw ship here with a topical story that is not only brutal in its violence (moreso than some of the later sequels) but one that furthers the deepening mythology surrounding Jigsaw (John Kramer), his apprentices, his wife, and the sordid tale between them all.

Taking over directing duties now is former Saw editor Kevin Greutert who helps the writing duo create a tale that is solid not only in its Jigsaw-ery but also on the games side of the story as well. As we meet a new (to us) character William Easton, his fate seems undoubtedly sealed as he is not only a slimy health insurance executive but also a slimy executive with previous ties to Jigsaw as he effectively sealed the brain cancer victim’s fate with the denial of an experimental treatment.

From the opening kill scene featuring corrupt mortgage lenders to the rescission-happy team at the insurance company, I worried that the vague generalities of Jigsaw’s previous participants’ misdeeds would be replaced by heavy-handed Romero-style social commentary on the state of the world as it pertains to the life and death of others. This actually fits nicely with the mythos of the story as John Kramer has had an inoperable brain tumor from the onset of the series and a good number of his victims have been targeted due to their apathy, either of their own lives or of others. As such, the preaching here is not to the audience as much as it is to the characters and the motivation for the games at hand.

Peter Outerbridge playing Easton starts the story as an evil businessman whose primary concern is the bottom-line, regardless of the wake of death and despair that might be left behind. However, through his journey at Jigsaw’s (or Hoffman’s, I get confused by who planned what game) hands, he comes to realize quite painfully that the choice between life and death is not as easy as crunching numbers or evaluating forms. The best trap in the film (and possibly in the whole series) takes six of Easton’s associates and ties them to a spinning merry-go-round of death by shotgun where Easton can choose to save only two. While the guilt of the six is debatable, the emotion in this scene alone as each one pleads for their lives while Easton can only look on as the unworthy are shot is very powerful, not only in its imagery but also in the performances.

While it has been slowing building over the past two films, Kramer’s wife Jill and Hoffman come together to finally realize Jigsaw’s final plan with no loose ends. Meanwhile, after Agent Strahm has gone missing, Hoffman is paired up with Strahm’s partner from IV to find the truth about who is in cahoots with Jigsaw. The primary reason that this is a far superior film than the last (and truthfully one of the best of the series) is not only because of the recalling of previous events and characters in different aspects but that things actually progress instead of staying stagnant. Even the stillborn aspects from the last movie are more fleshed out here, albeit in a largely throwaway line of dialogue, as the five insipid characters from the last movie were responsible for a case that Strahm investigated.

Even with his part monumentally better this time, Hoffman is still a character that resides in the shadow of the real Jigsaw. Costas Mandylor again does an admirable job of portraying a psychopath with a purpose but the character is nowhere as charismatic or impactful as Jigsaw (who plays better than Hoffman in flashbacks … while still deceased). Betsy Russell plays Jill nicely as she recalls the flashbacks of yore as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) preaches his plan and his way of salvation with confirmation through Amanda (Shawnee Smith) who we learn was a previous drug addict under the care of Jill’s clinic. The main draw though is Outerbridge who may possibly be the most convincing actor in all of the Saw series (no offence to Tobin). Easton’s games are centered around his deplorable business practices and by all accounts should be someone that we root to die as painfully as possible. However, when the end comes and we learn the true meaning behind the game, he has shed his snake-oil salesman act to show a man who has been devastated to experience the horrors he has placed on others. In the entirety of the Saw franchise, I dare anyone to find a character played better with a much more satisfying character arc than his.

Given that this is a Saw movie, most people would shy away due to their preconceived notions of disposable movies featuring nothing but senseless violence. And while that may be true for some of the other sequels with no redeeming qualities, Saw VI is a movie that succeeds in spite of it being included with such a franchise.

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 29: Cloverfield (2008)

Written by: Digger

If there is one thing I have learned from watching creature-features in my lifetime, it’s that monsters love New York City. King Kong terrorized New York, although he was taken there against his will, the Beast from 20000 Fathoms rampaged through New York of his own accord. Even the fake Godzilla from the terrible 1998 American film thought New York City would be a lovely place to raise a brood of hatchlings. So, when it came time in 2008 to throw a new giant monster into the mix, what better place to have him destroy than the Big Apple. Unlike classic creature films, Cloverfield takes the audience on a journey through the eyes of the displaced masses. Basically, the story is told from the perspective of the guy that you would only see for a split second pointing and screaming in a Godzilla movie. It all comes to us via “found footage” from the hand-held camcorder of Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) and starts off with footage recorded a few days before the event in question when Rob and his formerly platonic friend Beth (Odette Yustman) have just sent a romantic night together and are planning to spend the day having fun at Coney Island. While most of this footage has been recorded over, some of it will still pop up between cuts of the primary story. The parts that have been taped over start with Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogal) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) preparing for Rob’s going-away party. You see, Rob had just accepted a job transfer to a Japanese branch of the company for which he works. The video was meant to capture everyone’s well wishes at the party so Rob would have something by which to remember all of his friends. During the preparations, camera duty is passed off to Rob and Jason’s mutual friend Hudson (T. J. Miller) or Hud for short. Hud becomes the voice behind the camera when, during Rob’s party, a tremor rocks Manhatten. When several of the party-goers perch on the roof of Rob’s apartment building to get a better look at the disturbance that caused the quake, a massive explosion in New York harbor is witnessed by all and debris from the blast rains down all around the masses.

It isn’t until the main group make it down to the street level that we find out just what is causing the disaster. While most people run for cover as something very large moves through the near-by streets, one of Jessica’s friends named Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) was in a state of shock after seeing a creature move through the city eating people. If you haven’t seen this yet, then you need to. It holds the distinction of not only succeeding in being a fantastic monster movie, but also being a fantastic movie in general with good performances from relatively unknown actors (which helps with the believability of the found footage) and a well written set of larger than life circumstances that the characters must endure. The monster’s design is one of the most original I have seen in a while, and considering how many monster related movies I watch, that’s saying something. I will admit that this is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, especially if you find guerrilla-style or “shaky-cam” photography annoying or distracting in any way. For what it’s worth, this is one of the best giant monster movies out there, and many of its memorable moments are character related bits that don’t even feature the creature. Find it. Watch it. Love it.

Random Movie: Saw V (2008)

Back in the late 1990s when the original Star Wars trilogy was being rereleased, the jackhole movie reviewer from my local newspaper (Dan Neman in case you were wondering) wrote that Empire Strikes Back is an incomplete, and thus horrible, movie because it lacks a defined beginning or ending and just sort of exists without a purpose. Some of us thinking- and movie-enjoying folks would say “You’re a douche and it’s the middle part of a trilogy.” While I cannot defend that review (really, who the hell hates ESB?), I will pilfer its essence as I thought of that review after watching Saw V. Here is a movie that adds nothing to films in general or the Saw series specifically, it is just the very definition of a movie without a point.

Starting just where we left the surviving characters from the last go around, Agent Strahm finds himself in a precarious situation by the hand of Jigsaw’s emergent successor, Detective Hoffman. Hoffman’s intentions were for everyone to die (which they mostly did) so he can be declared the hero and deflect any suspicion from himself as he carries out more of the deceased Jigsaw’s plans. After Strahm survives with some impressive cognitive skills on his part, Hoffman scowls and probably wishes he had just shot the FBI agent rather than abducting him and sticking his head in a box (no, not the SNL digital short type).

The common perception among even hardcore fans of the Saw series is that this installment is the worst. Two years ago I could agree with that statement but my viewing of Saw 3D renders that scandalous accusation hilariously inept. The problem with Saw V is not that it is a bad movie, only that there is no point to it. Perhaps returning writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton were attempting to create a Star Trek-like pattern of the odd-numbered movies being god-awful while their even-numbered counterparts fare much better (fortunately the series is over, otherwise Saw XIII would have been fucking ridiculous). My main issue with the movie is the severe downgrade in villains we suffer as while Hoffman is a twisted guy, and played well by Costas Mandylor, he is no Jigsaw. For a guy who has supposedly investigated every one of the previous murders, the fact that he was promoted from random bit cop character at the start of III to Jigsaw’s apprentice is one of the biggest arguments for avoiding retcons that were not at least hinted upon from the start. Hell, it would have been much better in the grand scheme of things if Hoffman and the mystery guest at the end of 3D had traded places.

Scott Patterson returns as Strahm who leaves behind his impressively questionable deductive skills from the last movie and his innovation from the first few frames of this one to lurk around in dark offices hunting for evidence of Hoffman’s involvement, only stopping to look distractingly into the camera as he verbalizes his discoveries. In and of itself, this could have been a compelling part of the story but since we know that Hoffman is in fact involved, it all seems anticlimactic when Strahm finally catches on to Hoffman only to suffer a crushing defeat before telling anyone. Historically, the Saw series has been noteworthy for its keeping the characters in the dark along with the audience so this is a disappointing break from form as we grow tired of watching Strahm catch up to us. Even more baffling is that the trend of having deceptively arranged scenes is removed here as everything is straight-forward chronologically except for the opening kill.

As bland as the investigative side of the movie is, the torture-porn part is worse as they take the problems from II and further degrade them. Our participants here are morally-grey characters who barely receive first names that are guilty of something that is not only irrelevant to the movie but something we do not really care about to begin with. Just like Hoffman’s character, his traps have no ingenuity other than including explosives and wiring doors to open on timers. The actual concept of the trap sequence is cool (five douchebags who must work together to survive) but it is wasted on boring kills and irritatingly-mundane characters. Despite being involved in all the previous movies, director David Hackl either did not pay attention to the care involved in the first four installments or did not have the talent or the control to craft a tale that can exist as more than a filler movie, sandwiched between two largely superior installments.

So while others may say it is the devil, V was not bad per se but it was just largely forgettable in the grand scheme of the Saw series. At least 3D had some of the worst acting this side of Twilight to distinguish itself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Random Movie: Saw IV (2007)

Saw IV marks a turning point in the series, not only in the narrative sense but also behind the scenes; it is a changing of the guard if you will. Director Darren Lynn Bousman from Part II and III remains but gone is co-writer of the first three, Leigh Whannell, replaced by those Feast boys Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. I would imagine they were simultaneously happy and scared shitless to be taking over the writing duties but fortunately, they rise to the occasion as the fourth installment comes off much better than it should have considering the mess of a story that they inherited.

With Jigsaw “out of the picture” at the end of the last movie, Dunston and Melton come up with a very interesting way of keeping him in the thick of the events but yet moving along to branch out in new, more twisted directions. The target here is Sgt. Rigg, played by Lyriq Bent, who after learning of the good guy death from the last film (writing these reviews without spoilers is a pain in the ass!), becomes obsessed with locating the presumed dead, but still technically missing, Eric Matthews from Part II. It seems that Jigsaw is becoming more lenient with his assignment of games as Rigg is not a murderer, drug dealer, or dead-beat dad, but just a guy who is heavily involved in his work to the detriment of his real life.

Making a follow-up to the clusterfuck of carnage at the end of the previous film and yet still continuing a compelling story is a tough task but Dunston and Melton pull it off with a good mix of the previous Saw film ingredients: the manipulation of a linear narrative, recalling of past events in a new light, and of course flawed heroes with a story that is not as straight-forward as it would seem. Two FBI agents played by Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis are brought in to investigate the Jigsaw shenanigans with lone homicide detective Costas Mandylor‘s Hoffman, whom you might remember from a very brief scene at the beginning of Part III. Their investigation runs just behind the wake of Rigg who has been tasked by Jigsaw to save a life after receiving confirmation that Donnie Wahlberg‘s Matthews is actually alive. Rigg is not really involved in the game as the previous participants were but is mostly an active observer as Jigsaw wants Rigg to read between the lines and see how he sees.

It might seem that this movie is really more complicated than it is as there are layers upon layers of story, some present, but most in the past. The blurring of what is now and what has happened gives this movie an edge as Jigsaw is more present here than any of the previous films. A large chunk is devoted to telling the origin of Jigsaw as we learn the identity of the mystery woman from Part III, his ex-wife Jill. After Jill suffers a miscarriage at the hands of society’s bottom-feeders, Jigsaw begins his elaborate plans of self-discovery which spiral out of control as he loses everything worthwhile in his life. It is commendable that the writers are able to take a character who has been in three previous movies and develop a backstory that is not only sad and emotional yet satisfying in its explanation of how he became the way we know him.

Just like the previous films, Jigsaw’s parameters are laid out, albeit rather cryptically, but Rigg ignores the rules and perseveres to find Matthews, almost in a futile attempt of salvation. I will say that this movie takes multiple viewings to appreciate as once I had watched it several times (even once with Bousman’s commentary), the essence of the story really took shape as in Jigsaw’s twisted logic, salvation is empty if it is not truly earned. Almost in an attempt to best Bousman’s previous best entry, there are multiple twists to the plot, some which are expected but some which are not as the franchise proves again that you cannot attempt to predict the lengths that a deranged man will go to enact his form of social justice. With appearances by other previous token victims, this film takes the mythology of the series into the same realm of Lost or Alias that will make your head hurt if you attempt to fully understand. Regardless, even with the emergence of random characters to the fore-front and a significant ramping up of gore from the last, the warping of time, the overlap with the previous films, and the new direction of the story make this a worthwhile watch.

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 28: The Mist (2007)

Written by: Digger

No one can deny that Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers working today. He has over forty-five published novels, nine collections of short-stories, and dozens of credits for films, TV shows and TV mini-series. While the success and worth of his various film adaptations is debatable, his impact on the entertainment industry is certain. One of my favorite movies to bare Stephen King’s name is Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of The Mist. The set up for the film is easy enough to follow. Thomas Jane plays David, a professional artist living with his wife Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz) and five-year-old son Billy. (Nathan Gamble) After a vicious storm knocks out the town’s power and knocks over several trees onto people’s cars and boat houses, David’s vacationing neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) who is a New York attorney and has a bit of a history with David, asks David for a ride into town do buy some supplies. Before leaving, David and his wife notice a strange thick mist rolling off the nearby mountains, and on the way into town Brent, David, and his son see several emergency and military vehicles on the streets. At the local grocery store, all hell breaks loose when an air raid siren goes off and people can be seen running from the approaching wall of mist. After the mist reaches the grocery store, the ground shakes briefly, then silence. Now everyone is stranded inside the store, and almost the entire movie takes place inside this one location. A few of the workers try to go outside quickly to unplug the exhaust for the store’s generator, but the bag boy Norm (Chris Owen) gets attacked by some crazy tentacles and dragged off into the mist, and we never see what’s controlling those tentacles. This lets everyone know that there are some strange, dangerous things out in the mist.

While one would expect that all of the danger is outside the store, although the many things could very easily break through the front windows, the group of people inside the store begin to fight amongst themselves. This is where the movie gets very interesting, you know, beyond it just having a bunch of slime beasties trying to eat people. The major division starts with old Brent, who has convinced himself and a few other people that there are no creatures in the mist. He and some of his supporters of the no monster theory leave early on. While all this is going on, an odd and some what annoying woman named Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) has been trying to convince everyone that this event is actually the biblical apocalypse and is trying to save the souls of as many people in the store as possible. Now, in theory, this doesn’t seem like a very destructive idea, but Mrs. Carmony goes pretty Old Testament with this plan and starts convincing most of the people in the store that she knows everything about what’s going on. So, we have giant bugs and pterodactyls and tentacles outside and a religious zealot directing a group of scared and desperate people inside. In the middle of all this sits David and his son, just trying to find a way out. The monster effects here are well done considering the relatively low budget the film had (around $18 million) but are still obviously computer generated. The monsters look much better when they are obscured inside the mist. Now, many people I know say that this movie was ruined for them due to the ending, and I’m not going to spoil the final scene, but it has a polarizing effect on audiences. At the very least, I will say that this is not a “feel good” ending, but keep in mind that this is a horror story, so deal with it.

Random Movie: Saw III (2006)

Surprisingly, I have not yet become ‘Saw’-ed out as quickly as I tired when watching the Nightmare on Elm Street series. With another quick turnaround of a year from the release of the previous film, Saw III manages to further expand both the backstories of Jigsaw and his accomplice Amanda but also to delve further into human actions and emotions to be put on trial in a maniacal kind of way.

After beginning with a quick check-in of Donnie Wahlberg from the end of the second, part three moves onto Jeff’s test to exact revenge (or not) on those involved with his son’s tragic death. If you recall, one of my chief complaints with part two was the lack of characterization of the house inmates, likely due to their number but also the other story line with Wahlberg. As the sad, bitter Jeff is the central part of his portion of the movie, we are treated to not only a wonderful performance by Angus Macfadyen but also to a character that we grow to understand even if his blind thirst for revenge shapes him into a dick.

In the other half of the movie we have Jigsaw (knocking on death’s door), Amanda (still hot in a batshit crazy kind of way), and Lynn, a seemingly random doctor the previous two abducted to keep Jigsaw alive during Jeff’s game. As we did not know until the end of the last film of Amanda’s involvement, this side of the story allows us to see (both in flashbacks and realtime) the twisted but still genuine relationship that she has with her mentor. In a twist, we learn that these three are ultimately just as important as Jeff as the two sides come crashing together in an overlong and drawn out showdown between all four complete with flashbacks that should have been excised to keep things moving. In fact, while it was interesting to be able to see how the games from the first film were physically executed, the over-reliance on previous events that have little bearing on the current story drag things down considerably.

Very few people could describe the first two installments of this series fun but in comparison to Darren Lynn Bousman’s bleak and mean-spirited tone of this film, they were like visits to the fair. The plot explains why the victims are stuck in unbeatable situations but some of these killings (especially of one of the returning cast) only seem to appeal to those interested in the graphic violence aspect of the films. Fortunately though, Jeff’s story of tragedy, redemption, and tragedy again are far more in depth than what has been alluded to in the previous films. But for as much as returning writer Leigh Whannell gets right, the entire basis of the story is incredibly coincidental and by now we are wondering how Jigsaw can stimulate his local economy through bulk chain orders and purchasing abandoned warehouses aplenty without arising further questions.

The returning duo of Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith have good chemistry in their shaky partnership but Bahar Soomekh‘s character did not feel right even before her own stake in the narrative is revealed as her role is largely transactional and more of a catalyst for the other characters. Also returning composer Charlie Clouser‘s haunting score, complete with perfect placement of the series’ theme, matches the sometimes exhilarating, often somber pace of the movie.

This is largely a good follow up to Saw II, even as it incorporates events from both the first and second. I cannot help but still consider part two the best though because while this is largely original, some of the concepts are starting to feel a bit tired at this point. On second though, maybe I am getting exhausted of the games.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 27: Abominable (2006)

Written by: Digger

I love Bigfoot. I don’t believe that the legends about Sasquatches and Yetis are true, but the concept of the missing link or man-ape is a fascinating one, and right on the boarder of believability. I also love that there are so many movies about Bigfoot that are either family films or horror movies. Most of the horror movies featuring a Bigfoot monster are made on a shoestring budget, have Lance Hendrikson in them, and are only watchable due to how campy they are. These films fall into the sub-genre of “Sasquatchslpoitation.” The film that really highlights this sub-genre, and is also the best Sy Fy original movie I have ever seen, is Ryan Schifrin’s Abominable. We start off in this movie with a farmer discovering his horse slaughtered in the snow, then spying a huge dark figure lurking in the shadows. He and his wife run inside until it seems safe, and look outside to find massive footprints in the snow. Months later we find Matt McCoy (his second time on this list) as the wheelchair bound Preston Rogers on his way to a mountain cabin for the week-end. He is being taken there, against his better judgment, by a bitchy man-nurse named Otis. (Christian Tinsley) Preston has reservations about going because it is where he and his late wife suffered a climbing accident that left him paralyzed and her dead. Preston and Otis are not alone, however, as a group of five young women are staying in the cottage a little ways down the street. The movie takes on a Rear Windows vibe when Preston, trapped in his cabin and armed with binoculars, witnesses one of the pretty girls, Karen (Ashley Hartman) talking on her phone near the tree line and sees some movement in the woods. When he goes to clean off the lenses to get a better look, Bigfoot grabs her and disappears back into the woods.

Otis, of course, does not believe that Preston saw what he thinks he saw, and refuses to let Preston warn the rest of the girls or call the police. Preston, being the smart guy that he is, uses his laptop to send a text message to Karen’s phone that she dropped when abducted. Elsewhere in the woods, a trio of men including the farmer from earlier Billy, (Rex Linn) the local general store clerk Buddy, (Jeffrey Combs) and Lance Hedrickson as some random hunter are out looking for whatever ate Billy’s horse. Lance heads off after a noise in the woods thinking it’s a bear and readies his shotgun. He enters a cave where he finds the missing Karen, but now her intestines are hanging out, and she gets dragged into the darkness. Lance runs back to the camp to warn his friends, but each f them gets picked off by the Sasquatch. Later that night, after the rest of the girls have found Karen’s phone and know she is missing, Preston continues to try and contact them that the creature is still lurking about. There are a lot of things about this movie that are fantastic. Matt McCoy has definitely improved as an actor since DeepStar Six, and his character presents a very vulnerable point of view for the audience to watch the movie unfold. Bigfoot is, by the very nature of the monster, is always best created as a big guy in a suit, and this Bigfoot has a great, menacing look and has very expressive facial mechanics. As a Sasquatch movie, Abominable stands tall over it’s low-budget predecessors.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Random Movie: Saw II (2005)

In Scream 2, film geek Randy and his friends discuss the baffling properties of sucktacular sequels and how they all but destroyed the horror genre. It’s funny that such a statement is made in one of those very films (in my opinion at least), but even though sequels in general are easy to dismiss, especially ones that are written, produced, and released in less than a year, Saw II is one of those follow-ups that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its big brother and in some cases tower over it.

It goes without saying that if you did not like the original film, you will not find much of interest here but Saw II is made in the framework of good sequels that build upon the first’s successes without being an outright carbon copy. Instead of just two random guys shackled in a filthy bathroom, one of the stories here is of eight random people trapped in a house full of dangerous cons, deadly traps, and even more deadly nerve gas. One of these eight is the son of the crooked Detective Matthews who is the central element to the story and summoned into it by Jigsaw himself. The main theme of appreciating the sanctity of life is carried over here but expanded as the cancer-stricken Jigsaw is reaching out to spread his message to unlikely participants such as Matthews and even Amanda, the escapee from the first.

Much like another superior sequel Die Hard with a Vengeance, co-writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman originally conceived Saw II as an independent story which was later retooled to fit with the narrative of the first. Not only does this lead to a faithful recalling of the original, new ground is broken here as Jigsaw is given more to do as a broken man who is both a sympathetic character and a total madman at the same time. This movie is an excursion in the faults of human behavior with the elements of rage, corruption, and distrust that were apparent in the first but are more amplified now.

Based on these two movies, I would trade Cary Elwes for Donnie Wahlberg in a heartbeat as the later is able to carry the emotional baggage of the film without the drama student overproduction of natural human emotions. Unlike Elwes in the first, Wahlberg’s character is the driving force behind the story and is responsible for a lot of the more dramatic scenes which he is able to pull off decently even though the character of Detective Matthews is rather scummy. While the bulk of the cast-mates who are trapped in the house are not even important enough to be provided with introductions or even Jigsaw-brand tape recordings, they do well enough to make you dread their eventual (and likely painful) demise. Matthew’s son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) and holdover Amanda (Shawnee Smith) are the standouts but mostly because they are the most developed of the eight with actual names and backstories.

Overall, the story is more in depth with elements of more than just a psychotic man trying to inflict harm upon others as Jigsaw at times is either legitimately reaching out to Matthews or playing him like a cheap violin. Featuring some of the best twists in a traditional narrative since M. Night Shyamalan sold his soul to the devil so many years ago, this was truly a mind-fuck when I first saw it in theaters. Even expecting some of the turns in the story, the various directions that the movie takes are shockingly bold as the perceived truths of the audience and the characters are shattered one after another. Production wise, this is a much more polished film with believable sets (did I mention the parking garage with the wooden roof from the last one?), decent acting, and more emphasis on substance over flashy (yet still goddamn annoying when it happens) seizure-inducing editing.

If there was ever a valid argument that can be made that a good sequel does not take twenty years or a radically different approach, Saw II previously and so far has been my favorite of the series even with some the lack of characterization that would otherwise be helpful.

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 26: Alone in the Dark (2005)

Written by: Digger

For every Alfred Hitchcock, there is an Ed Wood. There are many talented directors working in the film industry today, but there are just as many infamously terrible directors churning out worthless trash on a regular basis. Uwe Boll, arguably the worst of the worst, has garnered a legion of haters since his earliest days in film making, and for many good reasons. “Doctor” Boll has no idea how tell a story visually, how to get good performances from actors, how to compose an interesting shot, or how to make a movie enjoyable in any way. After the cinematic train wreck that was House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, his second film to be released in American theaters, cemented the popular opinion of Boll as the king of schlock. The film opens with what is possibly the longest text crawl in movie history that flat out tells the audience this complicated back story about an ancient civilization and a dark world that they accidentally opened up and then some secret government agency or some crap. This thing seriously eats up the first minute and a half of run time and tells only the broadest bits of the back story in the most boring manner imaginable. This thing fails right out of the gate. The next part gives us a flash back about some kids in an orphanage that were experimented on by the evil Professor Hudgens. (Matthew Walker) One of these children escaped from Hudgens’ experiments and grew-up to become Christian Slater, or Edward Carnby as he calls himself. Carnby is a freelance paranormal investigator who spends most of his time hunting down ancient Abkani artifacts, the ones made by the civilization that decided it was a great idea to open a portal to a place they called the DARK WORLD!

Both Hudgens and Carnby are racing to collect all the little gold puzzle pieces that will reopen the portal, Hudgens so that he can ally himself with the dark world monsters, and Carnby so he can keep that portal closed. Carnby links up with his ex-girlfriend Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid) who is supposed to be a scientist of some kind, but for whatever reason, I just don’t buy Tara Reid as the scientist type. One of the dark monsters is released by a pirate (don’t ask) and tracks Carnby and Cedrac to the museum where she works to attack them. The monster is kind of a boney-looking dog that is sometimes invisible and sometimes not. While running from the CG dog creature, the agents of a secret government paranormal paramilitary group called 7-13 (not 7-11) storm the museum to shoot the monster a few times before it escapes. Commander Burke (Sephen Dorff) leads the team, and he is not happy to see Carnby at the scene. Carnby used to work for 7-13 after he escaped from the orphanage, but wait, Hudgens also work for 7-13 in an advisory capacity, and he works at the museum with Aline Cedrac. So why is it that none of these people know that Professor Hudgens is an evil douche bag that is putting dark world centipedes into people’s spines to turn them evil, and has been doing this for twenty years? The fact that this malformed story is supposedly based on a popular survival horror game that relied on quite, subtle atmosphere and legitimately scary situations makes the final product all the more disappointing. This movie is so bad, so disgustingly bad on every level that it’s hard to express in words alone. Stay far, far away from this twisted mockery of a film, unless you have a few friends around, a ready supply of alcohol, and a high tolerance for pain.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Random Movie: Saw (2004)

Six years later, it is quite remarkable that a movie like Saw could lead to one of the most prolific horror franchises of modern times. What started out in humble beginnings with a script hammered out by beginners, sold through a short excerpt of the feature, and a budget the size of most summer film’s catering department, Saw was able to make horror films distinct again even if that would lead to the danger of what some call “torture porn.”

In anticipation of the latest and allegedly final installment opening this week, I decided to go back and revisit the Saw series as some of these films I have seen only once and in some cases many years ago. If anything can be said about the series (again, going from my hazy recollection), the basic premise of each of the films is similar but the plots have been totally different. At the opening here, we meet Adam and Dr. Gordon who are chained by the leg in a dingy, industrial bathroom with only a fleeting idea of how they got there and an odd assortment of items to help them put the pieces together. The main adversary (in the series at large that is) Jigsaw seeks only to impress upon his “victims” the preciousness of life by way of an impossible task that would either put themselves or others in harm’s way in order to escape.

Honestly, the story is the best thing about the movie as the non-linear narrative assists the viewers in being at the exact same place knowledge-wise with the characters. The movie starts with Adam and Gordon in the dark both literally and figuratively but the use of flashbacks and side stories keep the information flowing at the pace that does not divulge everything at once but still effectively strings everyone along to try to figure it all out. While it has been decried, the violence here is rather minimal and is more implied than overtly shown, a notion that the sequels jettison if memory serves. Jigsaw’s previous work serve to show us a reason and a pattern to his games but never really seem unnecessarily sadistic other than to serve Jigsaw’s (and thus his victims’) purposes.

For as much pampering as the story and the Romero-style commentary get, director James Wan should have focused more on extracting compelling performances from his leads, and damn near everyone else in the movie, rather than cringe-inducing dialogue that would not have made an outtake in another film. Cary Elwes is a tough actor to pin down as he can go from other-worldly good (Princess Bride) to laughably bad (Twister) but it seems that the actor was channeling almost all of his previous performances as he ranges from very effective to embarrassingly bad in the short span of 100 minutes. Likewise for his partner-in-grime (and writer) Leigh Whannell and bloodhound detective Danny Glover who cannot go more than a few minutes without over- or underacting their roles away. Tobin Bell and Michael Emerson fair much better on the opposing team but that could be contributed to their significantly less screen time than the others.

If there is one thing I am not looking forward to over six more movies in this series, it is the damn hyper-editing that may attempt to heighten tension but only serves to annoy the hell out of me. While I dislike it, I have grown accustomed to the Michael Bay or Ridley Scott method of thirteen cuts in three seconds of an action sequence but when the camera filming a car chase has more movement than the actual (obviously immobile) vehicles, an editor who wants to show the movie without inducing motion sickness should be at the top of the wish-list. The frenetic nature of the narrative however is harnessed by composer Charlie Clouser who creates a score that is as haunting as the themes of the film itself.

At the end, Saw almost feels like an incomplete movie, one begging for a sequel or six, as we know little about the man behind the plot which is arguably the best part of the story. Jigsaw we know is twisted and sadistic but strangely has values that many of his prey do not. His appreciation for life (not necessarily the abduction or brutal violence aspect) serves as the basis for this film which is but the tip of the iceberg for many more treks into the quandary of morality to come.

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 25: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Written by: Digger

On the third of November, 1954, unsuspecting Japanese audiences were introduced to a character that would become the most recognizable movie monster of all time. Gojira (Godzilla to Americans) stomped his way into the popular consciousness throughout the next five decades. Godzilla has starred in a total of twenty-eight films (not including the crappy Roland Emmerich version) the latest of which is possibly the craziest of all. Godzilla: Final Wars was released on Godzilla’s 50th anniversary and, as the title implies, was meant to cap-off the latest series of Toho’s Godzilla films. We start off seeing a military unit from the Earth Defense Force that is engaging Godzilla at the South Pole. The strategic importance of defending the South Pole is up for debate, but a war ship named Gotengo launches a volley of missiles to bury Godzilla in an avalanche. Then a narration describes a brief history of Earth, stating that near constant warfare and pollution has released or created many giant monsters that terrorize mankind. We get to see some stock footage of a the few monsters in Toho’s stable that won’t make an appearance later in the film. The greatest of these many monsters is none other than Godzilla himself. The film goes in to a little about the EDF and Shinichi Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka) one of the mutant soldiers serving in it. Ozaki is sent with U.N. biologist Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa) to the ancient corpse of a monster of alien origin. When all of the various monsters around the world attack several major cities, the EDF deploys to contain the carnage. But, ultimately, a group of seemingly benevolent alien visitors calling themselves Xilians trap the many monsters in an energy containment field in their ships.

The Xilians attempt to sell themselves to the people of Earth as wanting to help the planet avert a major disaster involving a gigantic meteor on a collision course. I guess Ben Afleck isn’t available to blow this one up. Anyway, Miyuki discovers that the genetic information from the ancient monster Gigan that they found is identical to that of the Xilians, as well as many of Earth monsters and the mutation that enables the enhanced abilities of the EDF’s mutant soldiers. As usual, people should never trust an alien as the Xilians turn out to be evil and are secretly trying to take over the world. When the Xilians are outed on national television for capturing and impersonating the head of the U.N. the evil aliens release all of the monsters under their control to destroy all of Earth’s major cities. Ozaki, who is the only mutant soldier able to resist the Xilian’s influence, takes Miyuki and legendary EDF Captain, Douglas Gordan (Don Frye) the only American actor in the film, and they take the warship Gotengo to release Godzilla from his icy prison in hopes that he will not be able to be controlled by the aliens, as he was created from nuclear fallout. When Godzilla is freed, he goes on a rampage and fights giant monster after giant monster on his way to Tokyo to take out the Xilian mother ship, and that’s what the audience has been waiting for the whole time. The second half of the film is almost entirely monster on monster violence, and even though most of the individual confrontations are pretty short, the sheer volume of monsters smacking each other makes it worth while. Most of the creature effects are shot with traditional monster suits and miniatures, but a few of the shots use computer generated monsters, like the giant mantis Kamacuras and the snake-like Manda. This is a bombastic send off to the franchise and goes overboard on action TO THE EXTREME! It has people fighting people, stuff exploding, a monster with giant chainsaw hands, lasers blowing up cities, aliens kung-fu fighting at super speeds, sword fights, and of course, Godzilla being a supreme bad-ass, and it is glorious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 24: Darkness Falls (2003)

Written by: Digger

I’m going to diversify things up a little here today and throw a lady monster in the mix. Darkness Falls is the story of a young boy Kyle who is terrorized by, of all things, the Tooth Fairy. This isn’t your grandma’s Tooth Fairy I’m talking about either, or the Tooth Fairy from that other horror movie The Tooth Fairy that came out in 2006. The undead creature haunting this picture is Matilda Dixon, and she wins the award for most complicated back story of any monster, ever. Matilda’s legend begins when she was a kindly old spinster woman in the town of Darkness Falls (sounds like a cheerful place) where she was loved by all the children for paying them money for there baby teeth that had fallen out. What she did with those teeth is anyone’s guess, but she was eventually caught in a house fire and her face was burned so badly that she hid her face behind a porcelain mask. On top of all that, she was blamed for the disappearance of two children and hanged by the towns people. As Matilda swung by her neck, she cursed the town that her spirit or corpse, or something would keep taking teeth, I guess. I’m actually not sure, the legend gets kind of confusing there, but the point is that she is now a ghostly monster that takes teeth, wears a mask, hates light, and will kill anyone that looks at her. So the story proper starts a century or so after all that stuff when young Kyle (Joshua Anderson) looses his last baby tooth. He accidentally sees the Tooth Fairy and runs to get his mother. Kyle’s mom tries to tell Kyle that he’s just imagining things at that his room is perfectly safe, but then she gets snatched up by Matilda and killed off screen.

Skipping ahead twelve years, we find grown-up Kyle (Chaney Kley) still traumatized from his almost being killed by a monster experience and on a heavy regiment of medication. Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) was Kyle’s childhood friend and calls him in regards to her younger brother Michael. (Lee Cormie) It would seem that Michael is suffering from night terrors, but Kyle realizes that Michael has gotten on the bad side of the Tooth Fairy as well. Kyle heads back to his old town of Darkness Falls to help Michael. He is eventually arrested by the local authorities under suspicion that he is insane and possibly killed his own mother all those years ago. This puts Kyle in a bit of a pickle and he struggles to convince everybody that the Tooth Fairy is coming to kill little Michael, and him. Although the film did get a theatrical release, this is a direct-to-video quality movie at best that stars nobody you’ve ever heard of and has barely enough scares to keep a horror fan interested the whole way through. The effects are pretty good, but the story is just so banal and, worse yet, the lore about the killer just makes no sense. Where did Matilda find the supernatural powers to will a curse on a whole town? Do the collected baby teeth give her arcane powers? I don’t get it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 23: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Written by: Digger

Several legends of the common monster stable originated in European folklore, so it is oddly fitting when the creatures that American film industry have made popular become the focal point of a European production. Such is the case with Neil Marshall’s horror film Dog Soldiers, which has no shortage of -Spoiler Warning- werewolves. The film starts off with a young couple out for a romantic camping trip far from civilization, which in horror movie terms is pretty much a huge neon sign reading “Please attack us.” Sure enough, a big wolf hand reaches into the tent and makes short work of the two. Not too far away in the woods, a man is trying to escape from pursuers, but is eventually taken down. The man is Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) and this was an exercise to test his resourcefulness for the British special forces. Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) is considering letting him join his team, but denies him entry, and beats the tar out of him, when Cooper refuses a direct order from Ryan to shoot one of the dogs that tracked him. Many months later, Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his team, of which Cooper is a part, are dropped off in the same area of Scotland for a military training exercise where they must locate an opposing team of soldiers. All goes well, until night fall, when a mangled deer carcass is dropped into their campsite. The next day, the team sees a flare shot from another part of the woods. When Sergeant Wells’ team makes it to their new destination, all they find at the abandoned post are some weapons, some random organs and gore, and Captain Ryan in desperate need of medical attention.

Everyone should be getting a solid Predator vibe from the situation at this point. Ryan confirmed that something slaughtered his team and that they need to leave right away. The team tries to stabilize Ryan and call for extraction, but to no one’s surprise, communications are down. Communications always go down. The squad moves out, but they are being stalked by something, and Wells is caught and mortally wounded by one of the creatures. Cooper rescues him and in spite of Well’s orders to the contrary, picks up the injured Wells and continues to run away from what ever is chasing them. When they attempt to cross an isolated road, the soldiers almost get flattened by a woman in a jeep. She quickly tells them to get in, as if she is aware that something is amiss. She introduces herself as Megan (Emma Cleasby) and assumes that the soldiers were called in to take care of the creatures in the woods. She takes what’s left of the team to a cabin where she has been researching the disturbances in this area and, as the soldiers fortify the cabin and tend to the wounded, tells them that she believes the creatures to be werewolves. This film is kind of a low budget derivative of movies like the aforementioned Predator as well as Aliens (once they get to the cabin for their stand-off) but while feeling familiar, it manages to have its own flavor too. The characters are all well rounded enough to be interesting and the action is shot well enough to be genuinely exciting when the wolves start breaking into the house to pick off the soldiers one by one. Practical effects are used for the wolves, which I like, but the werewolf suits must have been heavy and stiff, because the on screen monsters are rarely dynamic.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 22: Evolution (2001)

Written by: Digger

In most movies that involve a monster of some sort, you usually get a story that revolves around one type of creature or ghost or alien. Rarely, a monster movie will have two or three different varieties of creature, but in the science-fiction comedy Evolution, you get an entire ecosystem’s worth of imaginative creatures. Ivan Reitman, most well known for directing Ghostbusters, took a serious and straight-forward script about an unusual alien invasion and turned it into a humorous outing in his own style. It begins with a meteor from the unknown reaches of deep space crashing to earth in the Arizona right on top of Wayne’s (Seann William Scott’s) car, turning it into a smoking hole in the ground. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) a professor at the local community college finds out about the meteor impact and suggests to his friend and geology professor Harry Block (Orlando Jones) that they check it out. Ira takes a sample from the meteor and discovers it contains nitrogen-based single-celled organisms of extraterrestrial origin. Upon showing Harry his discovery, the organisms have changed from single to multi-celled organisms. After a return trip, this time toting some students along under the guise of a field trip, they find that the tunnel in which the meteor has crashed into is completely overrun with the ever evolving creatures, this time having developed as far as flatworms and fungus that convert our atmosphere into gases that the creatures can metabolize. However, just when these two think they have the greatest discovery in history on their hands, the U.S. Military swoops in to take over the operation.

It turns out that Ira used to work for General Woodman, (Ted Levine) the guy in charge of this operation. Although Ira and Harry try to get in on the investigation, Woodman and one of the scientists involved with the project named Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore) successfully bar Ira from the project due to his previous failures as a government scientist. While all this is going on, those alien creatures have turned the tunnels under Glen Canyon into their own constantly developing home. Many of the monsters are using the mine shafts to escape into the surrounding areas and have a few run-ins with the locals. There is a four-legged fish that jumps out of the water to attack a man at a golf course, a frumpy little frog that bites some woman with a mouth on its tongue, and a flying dinosaur type monster that becomes tolerant to Earth’s atmosphere and lays siege to a mall. It is here that Ira and Harry meet up with Wayne and try to contain the rampaging aliens, loading up with shotguns to take out the flying dinosaur thing. The appeal of this film, to me anyway, comes form the sheer variety and creativity of the creatures being showcased. The core premise of the story lends itself to the writers and special effects team creating a huge number of monster-based gags and set pieces that are each unique and escalating in scale through the movie’s running time. The actual plot of the movie, however, has some logical holes in it and the comedy is hit or miss most of the time. The actors do a good job in their respective roles, but it feels like we are being rushed through the story at break-neck speed, like there were too many ideas that were squeezed into the script. The ending is also hard to believe, as the solution to the alien problem is entirely based on a hunch that just happens to work. But still, it’s hard to find more monster bang for your buck than in this film.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 21: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Written by: Digger

In 1922, during the German Expressionist movement of early silent cinema, director F.W. Murnau released the horror film Nosferatu onto an unsuspecting audience. The film’s image of the Dracula fill-in Count Orlock, portrayed by actor Max Schreck, became an iconic staple of horror movie history. Almost eight decades later, director E. Elias Merhige brings a secret history of the classic film’s creation to the screen in Shadow of the Vampire. The film opens with an intertitle card explaining how Marnau (John Malkovich) was unable to secure the rights for Dracula from Bram Stoker’s estate, but went on with the production under a different name. On a sound stage in Berlin, Marnau is filming the first scenes of his production Nosferatu with German actors Gustav von Wangenheim (Eddie Izzard) and Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack). After the shoot, the movie’s producer Albin (Udo Kier) discusses the crew’s plan to film much of the picture on location in a castle in Slovakia. There is also talk of the actor that Farnau has found to play their vampire. Max Schreck is apparently a method actor that will only appear in character, in full costume and make-up, and at night. Once the cast and crew has moved to their new location, they film the first scene in the castle where Count Orlock (Willem Dafoe) slides forth from the shadows much to everyone’s horror. All are impressed by the actor’s look and commitment to his character, but after the scene has finished, the camera man wanders off, then is found ill.

It turns out that Marnau is a stickler for making the film as real as possible. To this effect, he has secretly made a deal with a real ancient vampire to play Count Orlock in his picture. While many of the shots go quite well, with actors and crew alike finding Orlock’s performance to be very effective, the vampire is picking of members of Marnau’s production staff and draining them of blood between takes. Marnau confronts Orlock on this matter, reminding the Count that he had promised not to harm his people. It turns out that the only person that Orlock really wants is the star actress Greta Shroeder, whom Marnau is willing to sacrifice to finish his film. This movie adds another layer of fear, insanity, and off-beat humor onto the classic film from which it is derived. I would consider both Marnau and Orlock monsters in this picture. Marnau is driven mad by his own production, trying to wrangle his actors, crew, and an undead being which he finds out, much too late, that he cannot control. It seems that Orlock tries to keep his own vampire impulses in check, for a while, but eventually realizes that the person with whom he as made his deal holds little to no sway over his actions. Marnau turns a blind eye to death after death, so long as he can still make his masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 20: Idle Hands (1999)

Written by: Digger

Few films have explored the terrifying notion of a possessed appendage. The Crawling Hand was entirely centered around the disembodied hand of a dead astronaut being controlled by an alien consciousness. In Evil Dead 2, Ash dueled with his own hand that had been infected by evil spirits. And, in 1999, audiences were introduced to the next evolution of the demonic limb in the horror comedy Idle Hands. Devon Sawa plays the improbably named Anton Tobias, the epitome of the stoned, high-school slacker that were so very prevalent throughout the nineties. The local news is buzzing with unsolved murders, but this is the least of Anton’s worries, as he is out of weed. He visits his friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson) who convince him to smoke a mixture of oregano and nutmeg. Anyway, after all this dumb-fuckery, Anton discovers the bodies of his own parents, then murders Mick with a broken bottle and Pnub with a circular saw blade. Anton is horrified that his own right hand is commuting the acts of its own volition. As he tries to calm himself down with some television, he flings his pet cat out the window and across the street. While trying to locate his frazzled feline, he runs into his neighbor and long time crush Molly (Jessica Alba) and somehow manages to strike up a romance with her in spite of his murderous hand trying to attack her. He agrees to go to their school’s Halloween dance as her date, but first Anton must clean up the mess of corpses he has at home.

During all of this, Vivica A. Fox as the druidic priestess Debi LeCure has been investigating murder cases that she believes are related to demonic possession. While marking out locations on a map, she finds the murders have been in places that form a giant pentagram over the area. She heads to Anton’s neighborhood, where she hypothesizes that this evil spirit will choose a soul to take back to hell with it. Meanwhile, Anton had spent the rest of the day burying his mother, father, and two stoner buddies in the back yard. But, it would appear that Mick and Pnub are not finished quite ready to leave, as their bodies rise from the dead. They both explain that passing into the afterlife was simply too much work, and they would rather hang around Anton’s house and get high. Anton decides that he no longer wants to be host to a killer limb, and cuts his own hand off. Unfortunately, the hand is still possessed, and now much harder to keep track of. Horror comedy is probably one of the hardest genres for a writer and director to balance correctly. In the case this film, the comedy is pretty good with our pot-head three amigos of Sawa, Green, and Henson. They play off of each other pretty well and have a genuine chemistry that is fun to watch. The problem comes in the horror elements of the movie. Early on, when the evil hand is still attached to Anton, the notion of his character committing grizzly acts of violence and not having any way to stop himself is a fairly disturbing idea. The monster is part of him, so anything it does, Anton is also partly responsible. Once the hand is removed, however, it becomes a much less interesting concept. It’s hard to make such a small monster threatening in any believable way without it being part of a swarm. I have the same problem with Chucky from the Child’s Play movies. Any healthy adult could take such a small attacker and punt it across the yard with little effort.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monster Scum Marathon – Day 19: Deep Rising (1998)

Written by: Digger

This film starts with a little educational text stating that the South China Sea hides deep chasms that have never been explored by man, and that numerous ships have mysteriously vanished in those areas of the ocean for decades. If only we could find a way to surrender this movie to the depths of the ocean for all eternity. If I had to pick only a few words to describe the plot of Deep Rising, those words would be derivative and over-written. One piece of the story starts on a small boat captained by John Finnegan (Treat Williams) who is not out crab fishing but shuttling a band of black ops mercenary types to some obscure point in the middle of the ocean. The mercenary group is led by Hanover (Wes Studi) and is composed of half a dozen or so soldiers too bland to be memorable, although I did see Jason Flemyng and that guy that played Kano in Mortal Kombat in the mix. The black ops team turns hostile on Finnegan’s crew when the ship’s wormy mechanic Joel (Kevin J. O’Conner) finds live torpedoes amongst the weapons. Another part of the plot involves the massive luxury cruise ship Argonautica (which is a titanically stupid name for a boat) and a foxy thief named Trillian (Famke Janssen). She tries to break into the Captain’s quarters to get at his safe, but is caught by the ship’s owner Simon Canton (Anthony Heald) and locked in the galley freezer. Someone on board the ship disables several vital systems including, of course, communications, then a large something attacks the cruise liner. All of the passengers start to stampede in an attempt to escape, and we are treated to a scene where a terrified woman is violently pulled down a toilet.

Finnegan damages his own boat by colliding with one of Argonautica’s speed boats, that was made entirely of C-4 judging by how it exploded. Plot A meets up with plot B as the damaged little boat find the disabled cruise ship in the middle of the stormy seas. Hanover’s commando unit deploys on board the Argonautica, taking Finnegan and Joel with them to gather engine parts. Hanover had intended to rob the wealthy passengers then sink the ship, but all of the passengers have disappeared, except for Trillian, whom they find locked safely away in the freezer. The team also locates Simon as well, who it turns out had disabled his own ship and hired Hanover and company to sink his multi-million dollar cruise ship so he could collect the insurance money. You see what I mean about this being over-written? We don’t need all this forced subterfuge and intrigue just to get all the characters stranded on a boat for a monster to attack. When the monster, a giant mollusk of some sort finally does show up, it makes short work of most of the remaining cast, usually picking them off one-by-one a la Alien or Predator, two much better movies that I wish I were watching instead. While the awful writing effectively torpedoes the good ship Deep Rising before it leaves port, some entertaining bits can still be salvaged from the wreckage. The cinematography employed here is consistently much better than this movie deserves, like an amazing part near the beginning that zooms in from a wide shot of the cruise ship and follows a man through a door to the ballroom. Famke Janssen’s and Kevin J. O’Conner’s performances are also enjoyable, even if O’Conner’s screaming gets a little grating near the end. The monster is an original idea as well, as it only appears as tentacles with gnarly teeth and hooks when first seen. It isn’t until the end of the film that we get to see the full and somewhat badly rendered giant demon-octopus-thing in all its glory.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Random Movie: Extract (2009)

It is rather fitting that I am reviewing this film on the heels of the announcement that Mike Judge is trying to resurrect Beavis & Butthead, his breakout work. Part of Judge’s strength in previous endeavors is his ability to represent an accurate view of normal, everyday people albeit in an exaggerated fashion. In this vein, Extract is no different.

The problem with Extract is that these everyday people are kind of scum (and not of the movie variety). Judge is certainly a genius to be able to wring a compelling, and funny, story out of the events going on with Joel as the owner of an manufacturing company in the business of extract who hates his job, dislikes his employees, is sexually frustrated in his marriage, and could be facing a lawsuit from one of his employees who was injured on the job. Sounds good so far, right?

We’ll go down the character sheet now: Joel hates his employees and possibly his life in general. His wife Suzie is itching to have an affair. Cindy is a kleptomaniac. Dean is a drug-pushing (both pharmaceutical and the other kind) bartender. Brad is a male whore. Nathan is an obnoxious, big-mouthed neighbor. These are our main characters and short of Step, the employee who tragically lost a testicle, there is not a likable one in the bunch.

Compare this to Judge’s previous masterpiece Office Space where not only were the characters realistic but also a group of people you could root for (possibly even the obtuse Bill Lumbergh). Just like that movie, Extract brings the funny but in a subtle, off-the-cuff, deadpan humor kind of way. Obviously Jason Bateman is the perfect thespian to carry those reigns as he delivers a performance similar and almost as good as his legacy Arrested Development even if the writing here does not compete on the same level. Many may not like Extract simply for the fact that there are not many laugh out loud moments or juvenile humor like other movies from guys named Apatow or Philips. There are no fart jokes here, no naked Asian guys trapped in the back of a Mercedes, just real people with real problems. Now, do not get me wrong as I love movies like The Hangover or The 40 Year Old Virgin as much as the next 28-year-old guy but this movie rides on a different train so to say.

Other than Bateman, the actors here could not have been cast more perfectly. Mila Kunis as the scheming yet still endearing Cindy is eerily similar to Emma Stone’s character in Zombieland but it works well as she is the main catalyst in the film for a large number of events. Kristen Wiig turns in another solid, yet very understated, role as Joel’s cheating wife. Ben Affleck steals the show whenever he is on screen as the sort-of-hippy-but-not-really Dean who also sets a large number of events in motion as the proverbial devil on Joel’s shoulder. Even the smaller roles with J.K. Simmons and Beth Grant strike chords with anyone who has every worked before. I fathom that having a boss who cannot remember your name or an old lady who is just as quick to point her finger at others for slacking as she is herself transcends any occupational boundaries.

Just like in Office Space, a large portion of the humor is derived from everyday situations but my main problem with this movie is that its mean-spirited attitude betrays the quirkiness it otherwise conveys. It is hard to feel for a guy like Joel who lives in a large house, drives a nice car, and wants bang some temp just because he cannot get any at home. Even the ending is constructed around the death of a character that Joel and his wife could not stand and may have indirectly caused the death of where they reconcile at his funeral.

I had high hopes for Extract after hearing somewhat negative reviews of Judge’s last film Idiocracy. Unlike Office Space though, all of the components are here for a great comedic tale but the characters stop you from giving a damn as well-written as they are.

Monster Scum Marathon - Day 18: The Relic (1997)

Written by: Digger

The Relic, a techno-thriller from the late nineties is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by writers Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. Some critics described the film as Alien in a museum, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Directed by Peter Hyams, probably best known for Timecop, the film largely takes place, unofficially, in Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) is an evolutionary biologist who is developing a new method of mapping genetic codes, but is in danger of loosing her funding to a rival scientist, Greg Li (Chi Muoi Lo). As such, Dr. Green spends most of the movie either pissed-off or terrified. In order to stay afloat, she must prepare herself for the museum's opening of their “Superstition” exhibit. Her office receives a package from Dr. Whitney, another researcher whom Margo does not like, who has been studying tribal practices and rituals in Brazil. All the crates contain are a ton of plant leaves with a peculiar fungus on them, and a stone idol of a god or spirit called the Kothoga. Before disposing of the leaves, Margo uses the fungus to test her DNA mapping device. That night, one of the museum's security personnel is violently decapitated while he was smoking weed in the bathroom. This brings in local homicide detective Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) who sees a connection between this murder and several bodies that were recently found on a freighter that just returned from Brazil.

Vincent pleads with the museum's curator Dr. Cuthbert (Linda Hunt) to postpone the the upcoming Superstition Gala until he can solve the case, but it's simply to important for the museum's continued funding to reschedule. Vincent continues his investigation, even after police arrest a potential suspect, and begins to question Margo on the recent activities of Dr. Whitney and the nature of his research. Vincent is a very superstitious guy, so there is very little that he isn't likely to believe. After running her test on the strange fungus, Margo discovers a beetle that ingested some of the fungus and mutated into a feral super-beetle as a result. At the exhibit opening, with all of Chicago's wealthy and elite making appearances, the thing that used to be Dr. Whitney reveals itself, and goes on a bloody rampage. It may be cheesy, it may be predictable, but I like this movie anyway. It has a classic set-up that starts with a mystery about a few deaths or disappearances, and ends with a motley group of survivors, isolated and helpless, that have to face down a big-ass monster. A big, empty museum feels like a perfect horror setting in which to have this story unfold. The Kothoga creature has a unique design, being a combination of insect and reptile, and is brought to life through a combination of practical and computer generated effect. The CG stuff looks pretty dated, but they keep the monster in the shadows enough so that it's not a deal breaker. This is a surprisingly well made monster flick, perfect to watch late at night while munching on some popcorn.