Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001)

 
I'm inclined to take back every bad thing I said about the previous two Wishmaster films. This third installment, Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell, changes things up a lot from what 1 and 2 established of the series and made it about ten times more boring and way less fun.

College student Diana Collins becomes the waker of the Djinn demon (why is the waker always a woman?) when she opens an artifact from Iran that holds the Stone of Secret Fire. The Djinn takes on the identity of Diana's professor and goes about killing and threatening her friends to force her to make her three wishes. Diana enlists the help of the archangel Michael, whose spirit takes over the body of her boyfriend Greg, to defeat the Djinn and save the world.

So they changed the story again for the third sequel, but they sort of revert it back to the simplicity of the first film. Thankfully, there's not as much time wasted on backstory, and actually more time spent on the main character, Diana, played by adorable AJ Cook. The movie becomes less about the Djinn and the horrible chaos he can create, and more about how Diana finds her inner strength to stop him. Or whatever. They give her some backstory about how she thinks she's responsible for the death of her parents in a car accident - but I honestly don't see how that relates to the story by the end. When the angel Michael is invoked, he brings with him the Sword of Justice (is that from a comic book or something?). Diana cannot hold the sword, which will kill the Djinn, until she is ready to sacrifice herself to save the world.

This element of the story didn't really bother me - what bothered me is that it came out of nowhere. One minute Diana and Greg are running from the Djinn, ending up in a church, and the next minute Diana is using her second wish to bring Michael. Whuh? Where did that come from? This story has never had a religious angle at all, and none of the research Diana does has her looking for religious help. So I'm not totally convinced on that plot point. The execution of Michael possessing Greg (although that's probably the wrong word) actually works well and doesn't come off as cheesy - I know, surprising, right?

This is a Wishmaster movie, so I was hoping that at least there would be some cool and gruesome wishes to look forward to. Not so much. Not so much at all. The only wish that is even remotely worth talking about is the girl who wants to lose weight and just sort of pukes up blood and fat and her stomach. Other than that, there's just some fire, an impaling, eaten by rats, and a heart that explodes - but they do that one the easy way by just showing a view of the heart from inside exploding, instead of doing a practical effect on the actress. And that's really all there is to talk about. So sad.

Everything about the Djinn is wrong in this movie. First, the look. The basic creature is still fairly the same as previous films but some subtle changes throw everything off for me. His color is a drab gray. The horn-like tendril things coming out of the top of his head are more prominent, and hang down loosely in a way that resembles a little girl's pigtails. His ears are still pretty big, but they must have made his head smaller in comparison because now they are all you look at when he's on screen. They are so ridiculous and distracting.

Secondly, the Djinn's voice is horrible. This is where I seriously miss Andrew Divoff, replaced as the Djinn by John Novak. Novak may be an actor and a voice actor, but his voice is so unbelievably wrong for the Djinn that I was actually quite taken aback when he first spoke. He doesn't sound remotely scary or as a demon with any kind of authority with a voice that is not even the usual deep, gravelly voice of a villain. Instead, his voice has a weird comical pitch which they try to make sound scarier by adding a reverb effect. It doesn't work. I cringed every time the Djinn opened his mouth and was happy that he used the professor's body and therefore his voice for most of the film.

Final verdict is that Wishmaster 3 blows. The biggest problem is that the tone of the film is way too serious. The overall sense of fun, the macabre joy that the Djinn had in what he did - it's all completely gone. I was bored and disappointed while watching it, not being able to laugh at anything that was happening. Only one more Wishmaster film to go. I don't have a good feeling.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie Review: Madhouse (1974)

 
Well, now. That was odd. Madhouse is an attractive movie on the outside for fans of classic horror because of its two big stars, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, but I don't know that they would be particularly happy with the end result. What starts off a clever and fun whodunit mystery ends up being something completely different by the end - still not sure if that is a good thing or not.

Paul Toombes is at the height of his horror career from playing the villain Dr. Death when his young fiancée is murdered at one of his parties. Several years later, after a mental breakdown and a stint in an asylum, Paul travels to London to bring Dr. Death back to life in a new television series. But as a string of murders follows Paul wherever he goes, he starts to wonder if he may be responsible and not remember it.

I'm still not that knowledgeable at all about this era of horror films. I do know, however, that I love Vincent Price and what I've seen him in, and I'm slowly becoming familiar with Peter Cushing and all the Hammer films. Maybe because of this much of the symbolism for what the film has come to represent was a bit lost on me and that is of course not the movie's fault at all. What I got out of Madhouse was something very different, very confusing, and yet very well done. The story reminded me very much of the one in Targets, which has another titan of horror - Boris Karloff - basically playing himself as horror actor at the end of his era. There's also a hint of a giallo feel with the unknown, masked killer and the constant shots of the killer putting on black gloves.

Vincent Price can't seem to do anything wrong. He has slight moments of cheese in Madhouse but for the most part he takes on this more serious role with ease. You never know what his character is thinking or what he is capable of, and that is exactly the mystery the story needs to actually keep it a mystery. They do a great job of misdirection by showing Toombes waking up in bed after each murder confused, like maybe he doesn't know what he's been doing. Peter Cushing is Toombes's longtime friend and Dr. Death collaborator Herbert Flay. In my opinion, he definitely did not get enough screen time. He has one wonderful scene at the conclusion but he's not given enough to do for the rest of the film and it's a real shame.

Madhouse boasts a fair bodycount with not a lot of blood. The murders are similar to those that occur in Toombes's movies and are quite varied. Things start off with the beheading of Toombes's fiancée Ellen, and there's a great shot there of her head falling onto the dresser and Price's reaction. Then a random annoying actress gets a pitchfork to the neck; next is a hanging, and then another neck stabbing. Hm, all stuff having to do with necks. Strange.

One thing I loved about Madhouse was that most of the sets were the epitome of the classic "old dark house" that Price, and his character Toombes, are famous for. The elaborate dining room, the bedroom with the four-poster canopy bed, and especially the staircase the leads down to the cobwebby basement are made all the more classic when you add in Price using a candelabra to light the way as he creeps around the sets. The costuming is fantastic, especially on Dr. Death with the Mr. Hyde-like cape and hat and I loved his skeleton face makeup. The killer wears the exact same clothes, but instead of makeup, he also wears a skeleton mask, and it is one of the strangest skeleton heads I have ever seen. Very unsettling.

The turn that the film takes at the end is a little hard to swallow for me. There was no indication up until that point that anything supernatural or otherworldly was going on, so it feels completely out of nowhere. They do a neat little thing with Flay's wife's pit of spiders and there's a hilarious "red herring" joke to try to make up for it, but though I totally get the ending, I still can't help but think it's out of place. Maybe a different ending wouldn't have been better. It would have made more sense, though.

Despite any personal preferences, Madhouse gets the thumbs up! Price is always a joy to see and he rules the film just like he always does. Not to mention the fact that he wears beautiful pink pajamas in the film. My goodness, I love him even more after seeing that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New Indie Horror: Pieces of Talent (2014)

Very interested in this, it looks quite original and not of the norm. Waiting for my screener to arrive in the mail!




Indie horror film Pieces of Talent now available on limited edition DVD and VHS
Features special effects by Tony Rosen who created Annabelle doll for The Conjuring
Purchase: http://piecesoftalent.com/store/ Trailer:
http://youtu.be/iZ-UCbCPfio
 

Joe Stauffer's Pieces of Talent, an award-winning independent horror film, is now available on DVD exclusively at PiecesOfTalent.com. This special edition release comes autographed and includes a second disc featuring an hour of bonus content. Watch the official trailer on YouTube: http://youtu.be/iZ-UCbCPfio

Pieces of Talent features special effects by Tony Rosen, who created the iconic Annabelle doll for The Conjuring and the upcoming Annabelle. Stauffer's unrelenting vision brings to mind the visual finesse of  David Fincher's Se7en with the unflinching intensity of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In addition to the DVD, Pieces of Talent is also available for instant stream on your computer/mobile device and on limited edition, bloodied VHS tape. Collectors can also take home a unique "death scene" VHS and a hand-crafted bobble head. All of these items are available directly from the filmmakers via the Pieces of Talent webstore. For a limited time, you can enter the coupon code "horror" at check out to save $2.00 on your order.

"After an amazing run in the festival circuit, we are excited to finally have the film available to the public," explains Stauffer, who, in addition to directing, served as co-writer, cinematographer, composer and editor. "We poured our hearts into this project and can't wait for people to see it on the screen."

David Long, who co-wrote the script with Stauffer, stars as a maniacal serial killer posing as a filmmaker, with Kristi Ray as his latest muse. They are joined by Jon Stafford (Full Metal Jacket), Barbara Weetman (Stuck in Love) and Taylor Kowalski (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever).
Synopsis:

Set in the small coastal town of Bright Leaf, North Carolina, Pieces of Talent centers around Charlotte, a disillusioned aspiring actress that can barely get by. Charlotte catches a break when seemingly chance circumstances put her in contact with a local filmmaker, David Long. David and Charlotte form a quick friendship that leads to Charlotte landing the starring role in David’s newest project. David quickly becomes obsessed with Charlotte and begins building his bloody masterpiece. David is a happily obsessed individual willing to do whatever it takes to make “true art.” He utilizes his charm and skills to make something dark and deranged seem utterly beautiful and loving.

For more information and to purchase Pieces of Talent, visit the film's official website at PiecesOfTalent.com. Pieces of Talent can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movie Review: Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

 
Well, despite any warnings you fine people tried to give me about the suckiness of the Wishmaster sequels, I have decided to forage ahead nonetheless. Glutton for punishment, that is me. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies wasn't entirely that painful but I was still pretty disappointed with it. It doesn't even feel like a sequel at all - it's kinda like Return of the Living Dead 2 in that it is basically the same movie and not improved upon in any way.

When thieves break into an art gallery and damage the statue of Ahura Mazda, the evil Djinn is once again released on the world. As he goes about his business granting wishes and collecting souls, the person who awoke him, a young woman named Morgana, tries to learn as much as she can about her foe before he forces her to make her three wishes.

If you've seen the first Wishmaster and you start feeling a sense of deja vu while watching Wishmaster 2, it's because they are basically the same movie. Minor changes, or maybe enhancements, are made to certain elements of the story, but it's still the same story wrapped inside the same story structure. Djinn is released, Djinn grants wishes to random people and gross stuff happens, female protagonist has hallucinations and dreams about the Djinn until their final "battle" where her last wish sends him back. It happened in the first one and it happened in the second one... makes me really hope that they have something different in store for me with the third one.

As the titular Djinn wishmaster, Andrew Divoff returns to give the audience another performance full of odd smiles and speech patterns. I almost doubt that that is even Divoff's real voice because it sounds so strange and detached from his body. Maybe that's just me. Divoff also has a great evil, creepy smile that I loved in the first Wishmaster. However in Wishmaster 2, that freaking smile never, ever leaves his face and it actually got really annoying. Holly Fields is Morgana, our semi-punky rebel girl with a good heart and head. Other than that she's quite a bore with no personality. The same goes for her priest friend Gregory, who probably should be more integral in the defeat of the Djinn but he's really not at all. His character just ends up being kinda there. The two kung-fu fighting prisoners are more interesting than this guy.

The wishes this time around are again partly satisfying on a bloody level, and partly lame. The lamest wishes are a cop that freezes to death (because he said, "Freeze!" to the Djinn - how is that a wish?) and the Russian crime boss who wants the head of his enemy - so he ends up literally having his head instead of his own. Some of the better ones include the guy whose body squishes through the bars of a jail cell and whatever the hell it was that happened to the guy whose insides sort of exploded out of his body. Really not sure what happened there, but it was bloody and gross so I liked it. While the Djinn is collecting souls in a prison, one inmate (Robert LaSardo - great niche actor) wishes that his lawyer would go fuck himself. All I could think was, "OMG PLEASE DO THIS, I HAVE TO SEE WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE." It's not nearly as bad as what you might be thinking, but it's still hilarious to watch. Also hilarious is the scene at the casino, where a roulette wheel and playing cards are used as rolling and flying dangers in yet another massive chaos sequence like those in the first film.

The part of the story that was changed or added to was the exact number of souls the Djinn needed to gather - 1,001. Whew. He craftily gets this accomplished in what seems like only a number of days, though, so good on him. Morgana is also able to defeat the Djinn not only through a cleverly chosen wish, but also because she is now one "pure of heart." She trades her bare midriff shirts for a modest flowery dress and takes out her nose ring - but can someone explain to me what cutting off part of her pinkie finger did or where this idea even came from? What was most annoying about the story was how long they spent re-explaining who the Djinn was and all the history that was already established in the first film. A little explanation is needed to keep new viewers up to speed, but you really don't need to stretch it out over the course of the whole film almost.

All in all, Wishmaster 2 is just a fair sequel. I thought for sure that this one would be much bloodier and crazier than the first, but alas, I was disappointed. Even though I'm probably still going to watch them out of curiosity, I can't believe they still went ahead and made two more movies from this. Fingers crossed that something good happens in one of them.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rest In Peace, Marilyn Burns


The horror community has lost a beloved icon. Marilyn Burns, who we all know and love as the final girl from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sally Hardesty, passed away in her home on Tuesday, at the young age of 65. Burns also starred in Tobe Hooper's 1977 film Eaten Alive, and did a surprising and awesome cameo in 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D.
 
I wish I could say that I had the pleasure of meeting her at a convention, but when I had the chance, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity. She was at Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2013, and I could tell how excited hardcore fans were that she was there. I stopped once to take the picture shown below and watch her interact with a fan, and she was incredibly kind, sweet, and gracious, always with a big smile.
 
Your impact was great and you will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, Marilyn.
 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

 
I avoided Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters for a long time because of certain preconceived notions that the title alone brought up. I likened it to the Underworld series, which I am not a fan of, and expected moronic action that would only make me mad to watch. Now I admit to being wrong. Hansel and Gretel is for sure no cinematic masterpiece, but, holy crap, is it a good time. I dig it.

As children, Hansel and Gretel became known for killing the witch who tried to cook them. Now the siblings have grown up to become professional witch hunters, using their hatred and some nifty weapons to take out witches all over the place. They face one of their toughest and most personal battles ever when evil witch Muriel plans a dangerous Sabbath ritual that means danger for them all.

The wiki entry for Hansel and Gretel best describes the movie and what I think is the general consensus about it - "unpretentiously entertaining." This is a movie that doesn't care about being anything other than a fun romp that doesn't take itself even the least bit seriously. When done the right way, a movie with this attitude can be a huge success, especially when it is backed up by some fun action gags and decent enough story that at least keeps things moving. Some stuff was obviously filmed specifically for the 3D aspect (hate that), but it's not too much and doesn't distract.

The casting leaves a little to be desired in some roles. Jeremy Renner is actually pretty perfect as the often sour-faced Hansel who doesn't like to dwell on the past. Famke Janssen, one of my favorite actresses, portrays Muriel in a beautifully joyous way, and Peter Stormare as the sheriff is always awesome to see no matter what he does. The only person that brings down the cast a bit is Gemma Arterton as Gretel. She's cute and all, but I just didn't feel anything from her. Her performance is flat - the troll Edward shows more emotion than this girl. I didn't learn until after watching the film that writer/director Tommy Wirkola was also responsible for Dead Snow, one of my favorite films of recent years, and its sequel, which I'm still anxiously waiting to see. He brought the same sense of fun to Hansel and Gretel that he did to Dead Snow, and brought out the right attitude in the actors.

The thing that I usually hate about movies like this was the very thing that made me laugh most of the way through it. Anachronisms abound in Hansel and Gretel; most of them have to do with the look of the film and the weapons the witch hunters use, and some of them are used to get a laugh out of the audience. I loved the deal with the milk bottles with drawings of missing children tied to them and the fanboy Benjamin's book of clippings about Hansel and Gretel's witch hunting exploits. The weapons are beyond unbelievable for the time period - shotguns, a Gatling gun, Gretel's crazy machine gun-like crossbow, etc. - but most of the action sequences would have been nothing without them. The fashions are also completely out there... though I did sort of love Hansel's coat with the cool tiered shoulders.

The CGI effects are obvious, but not unbearably so. The CGI blood makes the kills feel a bit tamer and PG-13, though, so some cool kills are left feeling a little less cool and not as hardcore. At the same time, this is exactly what I was expecting and I wasn't that disappointed with what I got. There's a guy exploding in a bar, the Sabbath massacre, and probably my favorite part - the troll head-smashing sequence. So sad about Stormare, but he went out in an awesome way.

A very surprising thumbs up for a movie I wasn't expecting to like at all! Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is simply a good time all around, a movie with a good sense of humor and unpretentious understanding of what it is. Bring on Part 2!


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie Review: Omnivores (2013)

 
Though all types of murderers are disgusting and repulsive, there will probably always be an extra feeling of revulsion toward the cannibal. Filmmakers have of course dealt with this subject many times in the past, and yet not since 1999's Ravenous have I enjoyed the treatment of the subject so much. This Spanish film Omnivores is very subtle in its approach of cannibalism and makes it work for itself very well.

Food critic Marcos Vela is hired to investigate and write about certain "clandestine restaurants" that have begun popping up around Spain - restaurants with very strict rules, serving all types of delicacies out of people's homes. A fellow clandestine restaurant attendee tells Marcos of a place that supposedly serves human flesh, and once he gains exclusive access to the party, he learns the horrible truth of the place and how it is run.

The film opens with probably the most gruesome part of the whole film. A young boy, Dimas, is left alone with his sick mother in a cabin. When they have run out of food and the mother dies - the horrifying inevitability happens. Dimas grows up to be the host of the cannibal clandestine restaurant, with the help of his butcher Matarife. At the first restaurant Marcos goes to, he meets Eva, who offers to help him maneuver through this secret world and with whom he has a bit of a tryst. There is no hint of a backstory for any character other than Dimas, so the movie becomes entirely plot-driven and situational. Which is totally fine with me. But I was so curious about Matarife (though I had to do some research on what his name was because they never said it as far as I could tell) and what his story was and how he hooked up with Dimas, etc. With everyone else you can make inferences about their characters, and you'd probably be right.

For a film about cannibals, Omnivores is surprisingly not overly gory or bloody. This has bothered me before in other cannibal movies (We Are What We Are) and I have to admit that I would have liked to see some more action, but Omnivores seemed to have a different feeling to it that perhaps didn't warrant anything too gory. The tone is not exactly humorous but neither is it fully horrifying. You know that eventually all these cannibals that Marcos meets are going to get their comeuppance, and that is what the movie is about. The scenes where Matarife is preparing the victims for dinner only have two really squirmy moments - he pours some kind of burning liquid on one guy and scrapes his skin off, and then later the same guy gets a really well done jab in the neck with a knife, with some excellent blood spurtage. Those parts still can't beat the makeup work on the mother's body at the beginning, though, because that was pretty righteous.

The most confusing and somewhat frustrating part of the plot to me was the people's acceptance of Marcos into their circle at all. At the first dinner party he attends, people know that he is a writer and he actually tells him that he is going to write about these clandestine restaurants. Dimas also had to have known who he was and yet he actually shows Marcos the butcher room where the next meal is hanging from the ceiling. The flimsy explanation that Eva gives Marcos is that he has to eat the flesh so that he will technically be just as guilty as the rest of them. Ehhhhhh, maybe... but I think the police could overlook that small detail in favor of arresting the person or people who, you know, kidnapped, murdered, and butchered an untold amount of people, don't you think?

The ending is nothing short of delightful. Truth be told, I was expecting a fairly bloody mess as Marcos had to kill his way out of Dimas's home or something, but I was actually quite happy that the filmmakers chose to make the conclusion much more subtle, while still immensely satisfying. It quickly becomes obvious just which direction the conclusion is heading, and it only made me more giddy to find out I was right.

Omnivores is an interesting movie that many people will probably see as boring. To me it had the quirkiness of a Tales from the Crypt episode, where you may not be into it the rest of the episode but the climax makes up for all of it. I thought this movie was a nice, quick, new way to look at and deal with cannibalism and I enjoyed it for the moment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Movie Review: Wishmaster (1997)

 
I guess just because a horror film spawned a few sequels doesn't mean that the original was actually good enough to warrant sequels in the first place. This is very true of 1997's Wishmaster, which I had really high hopes for because of the talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera. However, despite some noteworthy gags, the whole of Wishmaster is pretty dull.

Alexandra, an appraiser at an auction, accidentally awakens the ancient Djinn from the jewel in which it was imprisoned. The Djinn grants wishes in order to collect human souls and become more powerful, but needs the three wishes of the person that awoke him - Alex - to open the gateway between worlds and free the rest of the Djinn to take over the Earth.

The movie was directed by Robert Kurtzman, one-third of the amazing KNB Effects house, so I knew before the movie started that at least the effects were going to be awesome. And indeed the opening scene in ancient Persia where the Djinn mutilates various people is freaking amazing. How could any horror fan not love the part where the guy's skin rips off and his skeleton comes out and attacks people? Sadly, that's probably the coolest thing to see in the whole movie and things pretty much go downhill from there.

Wishmaster's problem is that it has a great beginning and a pretty good ending, but everything in the middle is boring. Too much time is spent on exposition about the Djinn's history when we already got the basics on that from the text before the credits. There's a decent leading lady in Tammy Lauren as Alex (though she's mostly kind of whiny and weepy) who smartly deals with the cunning Djinn, but the interaction between the two characters is so little that there is never any real tension or fear that she is in danger. Once the Djinn explodes out of the opal gemstone as a mushy little baby Djinn and kills Alex's friend Josh, he just sort of walks around town disguised as some random guy and grants stupid little wishes to random people. Had Wishmaster stuck with the tone of the gruesome opening, I think it could have been much better.

Aside from the skeleton gag, there were actually a few other gore scenes that I enjoyed for the moment. Wishmaster takes most of its storytelling cues from The Monkey's Paw, wherein the wishes that are granted don't necessarily happen the way the wishers wanted them to. Some of the results are lame - a woman who says she wants to stay beautiful forever is turned into a mannequin - and some are pretty cool - the massacre at the police station where one guy gets his jaw ripped off. The two second-best gags happen at the end during a party where, again, all hell breaks loose. One party-goer is decapitated by piano wire with a life of its own; a woman turns into glass and explodes; statue snakes come alive and bite a man's face and twist it around all nasty-like; and another guy gets his face all stretched out weird by a spear going through his mouth.

The film can at least boast that it has an impressive cast of actors and horror icons, even if they just make cameo appearances. Robert Englund has the most starring role as Raymond Beaumont, the man who buys the statue where the jewel that holds the Djinn is trapped, and his assistant who bites it right off the bat is a personal favorite of mine, adorable little Ted Raimi. Tony Todd makes a short appearance as doorman Johnny Valentine, and Kane Hodder is a security guard who meets a very strange demise. Kurtzman himself appears as the man attacked by piano wire, and I think that was Howard Berger getting his face smashed in by a mace. The cameos are nice and bring a smile to the horror-lover's face when you see them, but they are not good enough to make the movie any better.

I actually want to watch the sequels to see if they get any nastier than this one, but I don't have much hope. It seems like there is probably a reason why I don't hear the Wishmaster series talked about more often - it's not that great. The Djinn as a villain is a very cool idea and had great potential but this film does not take advantage of that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: "The Matriarch" by Kevin A. Ranson

A bit of a welcome change from all the zombie novels I've been reading lately, author Kevin A. Ranson's vampire novel The Matriarch is yet another story that manages to breathe new life into a seemingly tired and played-out subgenre of horror. Just the first of a planned series of books, Ranson has already followed up The Matriarch with a sequel, The Matriarch: Guardians, which was released in May. Hopefully I'll get a chance to read that one too, because I completely enjoyed the first book.

Staying at her grandparent's isolated farmhouse over Thanksgiving break, Janiss Connelly starts becoming suspicious of the nearby Cedarcrest Sanctum rest home where some odd things are happening with the residents. Janiss soon finds herself in the middle of a long-standing vendetta between the head of Cedarcrest and a mysterious man named Ian, who one night changes her life in a way she never could have imagined.

I used to think that I was pretty much over vampire stories in general because I hadn't seen them done the way I think they should in a long time. Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain trilogy changed that somewhat with its super-awesome version of the vampire, but I definitely missed some of the classic elements of the story. Ranson's story is wonderful mix of all those things that we know and love about vampire lore, along with some of his own personal tweakings. For example, a wooden stake alone can not kill a vampire, it just hurts and incapacitates them while it is in their chest. The kinds of vampires that exist in this book are also not inherently good or evil - that depends on how they deal with what has happened to them. They can either become horrible killers or learn how to control their powers and their bloodlust in order to safely live among humans.

One thing that did confuse me a bit was how the vampires would keep saying that they were dead,
but one part has Janiss not being able to wake up from her bed of soil until her breathing starts and her heart starts beating. Did I misinterpret something there? Anyway, other than that, Ranson's take on vampirism was wonderfully detailed and exciting to me personally because these are the kinds of vampires that I love to read about. Of course they are monsters and act as such when need be, but a part of them is still human, and they can use their unique capabilities for good, actually. You'll just have to read the book to find out how.
***EDIT*** My question has just been answered by the author! The vampires here are technically dead, but at night when they go out to feed, they are able to imitate the living so that they may feed off of them. It is in the sunlight where humans are able to see them for what they are, and they cannot hide as easily.

As our main character, Janiss Connelly is surprisingly admirable, though she's a bit annoying at first because of the way she treats her friend Daniel. She is no shrinking violet, even before she becomes a vampire, and she seems very determined and independent. After her transformation, she is confused and afraid but still tries to work with what is happening logically, without crying in a corner or anything. She learns about her new skills as a vampire from the one that made her, Ian. He is the perfect villain - cold, conniving, and selfish, he takes pleasure in tormenting Janiss any way he can. Their relationship is extra-tense because Ian knows that Janiss is on the side of Louisa, the vampire who runs Cedarcrest and who has a strong vendetta against Ian both for turning her into a monster and for the murder of her best friend a hundred years ago. My favorite character was Timothy, Louisa's personal aide. He seemed to care very deeply for her, knowing all her secrets and helping her in her day-to-day survival, and in her plan for vengeance against Ian. He's not emotional but you can tell he has a big heart, and those kinds of characters are always intriguing.

Though the core story of The Matriarch is brought to a satisfying conclusion at the end, I can see all the possibilities of where Ranson could take it even further for the sequels. There's a whole world of vampires out there that we haven't met, and it seems like Janiss has some work that she wants to get done. The Matriarch is a wonderfully and skillfully crafted vampire tale that shows respect for the classic monster, while still changing things up in a way that shows the author's personality and individualism. I'm very happy that I got a chance to read it and that I can share it with other horror fans because I think it is something that they could really (I CAN'T RESIST) sink their teeth into!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: 28 Days Later (2002)

 
28 Days Later is one of those films that I only remember watching once or twice, despite its immense popularity. Catching up on it now, it's still not exactly one of my favorites, but I can definitely see why people love it. Simple and inventive, 28 Days Later is a wonderful post-apocalypse story that is very effective, even despite some flaws.

A group of animal rights activists breaks into a research facility to rescue chimpanzees that are being experimented on, and unwittingly release a dangerous virus of pure rage onto the populace. Twenty-eight days later, four survivors navigate the desolate country, trying to find a safe place to stay.

One reason 28 Days Later is impressive is because at least most of the movie was shot on DV. More convenient than huge film cameras, director Danny Boyle used DV cams to achieve some of the shots that they needed to get quickly. There are many parts where the lesser quality hurts the movie, simply because DV will never look as beautiful as film. It's disappointing, but the style quality is there. There are many different locations over the course of the movie, and Boyle uses them all to their full potential both visually and emotionally. He makes a simple shot of a family of horses running through a field almost bring tears to the eye, and turns an elegant mansion into a creepy house of horrors. All the makeup effects are realistic and beautiful in their own way - I like the simplicity of the use of the scary red eyes on the infected.

Cillian Murphy is our mysterious leading man Jim, who is buck naked when we first meet him. There are some wonderful iconic shots of deserted London as Jim wanders around, not knowing what happened and looking for any other signs of life. Soon, he meets up with survivors Mark and Selena, and then later the core group becomes Jim, Selena, Frank, and his teenage daughter Hannah. Each character has qualities important to the story and traits that play off of each other. Frank plays as the father figure to them all, and Hannah is no useless little girl, as she is quite defiant and skillful. Cillian's gaunt body makes Jim look weak and in comparison to Selena, who saves him from a group of infected, he is. However, when he is put to the test by the military guys who threaten Selena and Hannah, Jim proves that he can be quite vicious and cunning, and then coming full circle back to the caring and sensitive guy he started out to be.

I've been thinking about doing a little thing on Unsung Heroines of Horror and if I did, Selena from 28 Days Later would most definitely be on the list. When Jim first meets her, she is very cold and unfeeling, constantly reminding Jim that she will let him and anybody else die if she has to, and only concentrating on surviving day to day. It's almost kind of annoying to me how rude and inhuman she is. When Frank and Hannah come into the mix, they truly affect her and her soft side comes out here and there. She's a badass when she needs to be - the best example is when she dispatches of her companion Mark with no hesitation after he's been infected.

One thing that is constantly brought up when talking about 28 Days Later is the debate over whether the film is a "zombie" film or an "infection" film. People seem to be pretty adamant one way or the other, but even after watching the film again, I can't make the call. It's obviously not a zombie film because the baddies are not zombies. There are no reanimated corpses or people rising out of graves. Though it is unclear how they kill, there is at least no talk of the eating of human flesh or brains. The people that call it a zombie film, though, still have the right to say so because the scenario is pretty well identical to a zombie apocalypse story. The baddies themselves might as well be zombies based on the way they act and the way the infection is spread. So I'm staying on the fence in this debate - whether you say "zombie film" or "infection film," I'd say you're essentially both right.

Possibly my favorite part of 28 Days Later is Frank's infection. It is the one part of the film that I have always remembered over the years simply because of how random, unlucky, and genius it was. A single drop of blood from a dead infected body falls into his eye - no attack, nothing violent, just really shitty luck. The infection's quick turnaround time hardly gives the audience time to mourn the loss of Frank, who is just one of those really good guys with a big heart. Frank's demise represents what I've always thought was the real bitch of zombie stories - you can fight hard and survive a long time, until a single bite, one wrong move, can suddenly be the end of it and there is no way to change it.

28 Days Later is not a personal favorite, but I can feel where the love is coming from. There is real talent behind the story, filmmaking, and acting - all three important components of a film coming together to create something that is a welcome addition to the horror and zombie (or infection) genre. Focusing more on morality and emotion than pure violence, 28 Days Later is definitely one that will be remembered for a long time.