Saturday, February 28, 2015

Movie Review: Starry Eyes (2014)

 
Starry Eyes is another one of those recent movies that I've only heard a shit-ton of stuff about, but didn't actually know what it was about until I started playing the movie. It's a good way to go into movies sometimes, and this one is no exception. I felt a strong vibe of a certain subgenre of horror films, which I am weary to say what it is because it doesn't seem like anyone else feels the same way.

Sarah Walker is yet another one of those fresh-faced aspiring actresses in Hollywood. She works as a waitress at a cheesy restaurant to pay the bills, and has to deal with all her other wannabe actor and filmmaking friends. Sarah learns just how desperate she is for her dreams when she goes on an audition for a horror movie called The Silver Scream, and they seemingly offer her all she's ever wanted...

The story is an age-old and well-known tale, but Starry Eyes takes it to a whole new different level. The movie is a look at the ugly side of Hollywood, and the way that we say some people will sell their souls and their bodies for fame. Sarah's emotional and physical transformation and deterioration becomes a metaphor for this. All the different situations presented in the movie are rather cliché, but I think that was point. There's the negative "friend" who doesn't want Sarah to succeed; the promise of fame in exchange for sexual favors; the day job that is embarrassing and as equally degrading as going on auditions. Sooooo, why does anybody want this life, again?

Alexandra Essoe turns out a great performance as lead Sarah. Though the character lacks any real personality and spends most of the film boringly sullen and withdrawn, Essoe plays the other more extreme side of Sarah very well. She's pretty freaky in the scenes where she's going through the character's "fits" that get her the attention of the casting director for The Silver Scream. Louis Dezseran as the producer manages to go from charmingly likable to undeniably sleazy a little too easily. Amanda Fuller plays Sarah's roommate Tracey, and I loved seeing this fine actress again in another role (I also need to see Red, White and Blue again).

What the film lacks in action in the first two-thirds, it more than makes up for in the last act. The body horror stuff that Sarah goes through is definitely gross, but it's actually all stuff that we've seen before - losing fingernails, maggots in places they shouldn't be, blood coming from places it shouldn't. I would have been a lot more shocked at this nastiness if the recent film Contracted hadn't already beat Starry Eyes to that punch, so that was a bit of a disappointment for me. The body horror aspect, however, pales in comparison to Sarah's "final sacrifice." It is incredibly bloody and violent, although not at all surprising since the whole movie seems to be building up to it. Don't really want to spoil too much but there is a certain dumbbell head-bashing that was particularly awesome, so I have to give out my props for that.

Okay, so I said earlier that this movie gave me some real vibes that it was really about something else. So am I the only one who thought that the Astreus cult was going to be werewolves? Some of the things that physically happen to Sarah in the movie don't support this at all, but I still couldn't ignore the clues I was getting: the pentagram necklaces and imprints on the members' hands; the continuous shot of the spotlight that resembled a full moon; the shot of Sarah with sharpened teeth, yellow eyes, and blood in her mouth; the way she could smell Tracey's blood; and the casting director's comment about "transforming" herself. I know that in all probability I am completely wrong but somehow my own strange hypothesis makes more sense than just your average Satanic cult that never explains its purpose.

But even if my Starry Eyes theory is wrong, I don't think I'm wrong in saying that this movie is definitely one to see. It is beautifully shot with some very cool and trippy imagery that will likely stay with you for a while after watching the film.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Review: Tusk (2014)

 
Well, I think it's safe to say that no movie has ever thrown me into such fits of laughter as the ones that I endured while watching the movie Tusk (and the ones that I had for a good hour afterward, every time I even thought about the movie). Trust me, weed is not really required to enjoy Tusk in all its pointless weird-ery. If Kevin Smith can make a movie about a walrus-man, then by golly, I can make up my own fucking words. Weirdery is now a word.

So apparently I never get out from under this rock I've been living because I had absolutely knew nothing about this movie or how or why it came to be. Got the whole story after I saw it and none of it surprised me in the least. Kevin Smith is an acquired taste of a filmmaker, known for films with somewhat ridiculous or stupid premises. The premise of Tusk, taken from a conversation on Smith's podcast (did anyone even know he had a podcast?), is that a young, douchebaggy podcaster named Wallace travels to Canada, answers an ad from Howard Howe who claims to have wild stories to tell, and ends up being turned into a human walrus monster by said guy.

I'm glad I was in such a good mood when I watched the movie - otherwise, I don't really know what my reaction to it would have been. Being a Tusk-virgin is really the best way to experience the movie. For the love of goodness, do not even Google the damn movie because the reveal of Wallace the Walrus will be completely ruined and you will miss out on the experience of seeing, for the first time, the funniest fucking thing you will see all year. But of course, I might be in the minority here because it seems that many people were not that impressed with Tusk or even thought it was that funny. I blame it on my good mood, but I seriously dug Tusk. Your initial reaction to the movie's silliness will probably be how you will always feel about it, so remember that if you venture into these very, very strange waters.

The reality that I'm seeing is that there was obviously no real point or reason behind Tusk, so it in turn would feel a bit pointless to look upon it negatively. It reminds me of the movie Rubber - absolutely stupid idea for a movie, but executed in a way that was more genius than I could have imagined. Smith is not generally my cup of tea - the only movie I've been really impressed with was Red State - and it's obvious that horror is not exactly his forte. Yet. He does show in Tusk that he does have a bit of an eye for the creepy, especially in the earlier scenes with Wallace and Howard. There's a good amount of tension built up there, which rightfully makes the viewer very suspicious of Howard, without really knowing what he has in mind. Smith also does a fairly good job with some aspects of the body horror side, but overall, pretty much everything is overshadowed by the comedy. This doesn't let the movie be truly horrific, so maybe Smith can work on that if he delves into horror again.

Justin Long is just the right combination of annoying and charming in his portrayal of Wallace Bryton. You sort of like him because he's funny, but you also want to punch him in the face to shut him up for five minutes. Probably the best decision Smith made with Tusk was hiring Michael Parks again after he kicked ass in Red State. I loved the way Parks dealt with Howard Howe, the strange man whose love affair with a walrus led to this whole twisted scenario. I can't imagine too many actors who could handle this movie like he did, and he did it with a sense of fun while still keeping his respect. A certain unnamed actor enters the story later on as Guy Lapointe, and is his usual odd self. His character is funny, but mostly a plot point, and one that really drags the movie down at that. Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez round out the rest of the cast. Rodriguez is way too hot and nice to be Long's girlfriend in this movie, I know I'm not the first one to say it.

Call me crazy, but I'm giving Tusk a thumbs up. There's always room in horror for the truly bizarre, and sometimes the truly pointless, and this movie fits that bill perfectly. The actors commit to their roles, and the movie feels serious when it is completely not serious at all at the same time. It's good for a lot of laughs, but don't look for much beyond that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

*BONUS* Movie Review: Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004)

 
Well, of course I couldn't leave out this little gem from my journey through the Puppet Master series. I didn't include it in the regular series because as Charles Band himself said, it is not an official part of the Puppet Master canon. But thank goodness it still even exists, because it is one wonderfully, terribly, horribly bad awesome movie.

The head of evil toy company Sharpe Industries, Erica Sharpe, has plans to unleash millions of killer toys on Christmas morning, with the help of the demon Bael and the Demonic Toys. Meanwhile, the last two members of the Toulon family, Robert and his daughter Alexandra, resurrect their puppet guardians just in time to fight Miss Sharpe and save themselves and millions of innocent lives.

I simply cannot praise this movie enough. I mean, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys simply has everything you could want from a cheesy, cheap movie about dolls that come to life. Hilariously bad dialogue. Hilariously over-the-top acting. Hilariously bad animation and sound effects. Stupid, way-too-informative title cards. This entry doesn't necessarily fit the tone of the other Puppet Master films (though a few of them came dangerously close) but it is still a welcome addition simply because of how much fun it is. The film moves at a fast pace while still managing to cover all its bases story-wise, and the comedy keeps you wanting more with each new bizarre development.

Sidenote: You know what one of my favorite things about these cheap movies is? Ill-fitting and very, very fake-looking police uniforms. For some reason, it always makes me laugh when I see some poor actor who has to wear one of those because it just looks so ridiculous. Sergeant Russell, I feel for you.

Now, I'm sure everyone loves Corey Feldman's performance the best out of those in this movie, but he is more than equally matched in hilarity by Vanessa Angel, who plays Erica Sharpe. She plays a typical HBIC with a touch of a spoiled teenager very well, and delivers every stupid line she has to say with amazing talent. Plus, she wears that one odd red dress like a BOSS. But yes, Corey Feldman rocks the house. Not only does he play a man whose daughter is about the same age that he is, but he also completely brings down the dignity of the name Toulon with one hysterical, totally committed performance. He's having fun with it, so therefore, the audience is too and that's all you can really ask for in a movie like this. Feldman also gets the absolute best line in the movie: "Baby Oopsy kicked my butt!"

Speaking of which, there's a lot of interesting stuff with the dolls here. On the Puppet Master side, we have what seems to be the core four: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, and Six Shooter. I hate to keep harping on how the look of the dolls seems off from movie to movie, but is so much worse here. Poor Blade! Why did he have to have such long hair? And there's just something weird about the faces on Six Shooter and Jester. Actually, they all look pretty shitty, let's just say it. Anywho, our favorite puppets just as likable as ever here, and they are even rewarded for being so awesome by getting some nifty upgrades from Robert, like laser guns and super-strong titano-arms. This is all made even more amazing during the final fight sequence with the Demonic Toys. My man Jester finally gets a useful weapon when his right hand is replaced by a shiny new mace. You go, cutie.

On the evil toy side, we have Baby Oopsy Daisy, Jack Attack, and Grizzly Teddy, who were just as entertaining as I remember them from when I saw the first Demonic Toys movie many years ago (I know, I need to catch up). Being the only talking toy of the bunch, Baby Oopsy Daisy does his part to stay rude and crude and keep the fun alive while Jack Attack and Grizzly Teddy are just really scary. Was Baby always able to do that little fart-and-fly move that he does in this movie? 'Cause that's stupid. But I still love it. Jack Attack seems to have the best skill of them all, though, as he makes a guy's eyeballs pop out of his head in the climax scene. Nice!

I could really talk about how awesome each individual scene is in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, but that would obviously take too long. If you've already seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. And if you haven't seen it, you really need to do that right now.

Okay, so NOW the Puppet Master series has been completed! Any more suggestions for what franchise I should tackle next? Hellraiser, Subspecies, Pumpkinhead? What say you?


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movie Review: Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)

 
As they say, all good things must come to an end. My journey through the highs and lows of the Puppet Master series of films will officially be over at the conclusion of this review. It really has been a good time discovering this series on my own, especially because it is a known but not very popular or much talked-about series in the community. I can't say that I enjoyed all the movies (FUCK YOU, LEGACY) but I've enjoyed the series' sense of the fun, the characters, and of course, the puppets.

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising picks us up right after the events of Axis of Evil. Tunneler ends up the hands of another Nazi in town, Kommandant Moebius. He and his sexy Nazi bitch Uschi are forcing an Austrian doctor named Freuhoffer to perfect their resurrection machine which would allow them to create unkillable German soldiers. Danny and Beth get the help of an army sergeant to both rescue Tunneler and stop this nefarious scheme from coming to light.

There is some of the new and some of the old in this final Puppet Master film. All our favorite puppets are back, for one: Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Leech Woman, Tunneler, and Six Shooter all get their chance to shine here in one way or another. Danny and Beth are also back, and the actors playing them have been replaced with newer, but not necessarily better models. It's okay though, because there are plenty of other things to be entertained by in this movie. The new that Axis Rising brings is that of four - count 'em, FOUR - new puppets. Though these newbies play for the other team, some of them are really fun, and it's a bit sad that they only get to be in one movie.

Before we get into the new puppets, though, we gotta talk about some of the human characters. Like I said, the new Danny and Beth are not really as likable as the ones in the previous film because they feel a bit like caricatures of those original people. Sergeant Stone is a bit like a caricature himself, too, but that's mostly because of the actor's look. He's still a fun character and brings in some nice comic relief. Moebius is also quite silly. However, he is not nearly as silly as his female counterpart, the aforementioned sexy Nazi bitch Uschi, who they decided to make the most prominent figure on the cover art. I WONDER WHY. This chick's performance is easily the most ridiculous thing about the movie and you know it from the second she steps on screen. Boobie-revealing white button shirt, army boots with heels, and a some kind of whip or cane that she makes amazing use of by giving the audience all kinds of sexy, dominatrix-y poses. Don't even get me started on her accent. It's terrible, that's all there is to say.

Blade and the other puppets look a little bit different once again but the puppeteering brings out all their different personalities well, and that's something that hasn't been done well for a couple movies now. Now, about those new puppets. Once Freuhoffer examines Tunneler and extracts the serum, he realizes that it will not work on humans. So he nixes the resurrection machine (which was stupid anyway) and quickly becomes an amateur puppet builder, creating Bombshell, Blitzkrieg, Weremacht, and Kamikaze. Bombshell is actually Uschi after Moebius kills her, and she has very powerful little machine guns behind her metal-plated fake boobies. Blitzkrieg looks kinda like Torch, but has a tank for a body and both of his arms are guns. The only thing interesting about Weremacht is that he looks like a werewolf and I don't know what else he does. Kamikaze is a direct insult to every Asian both in his look and in the noises he makes. The bomb on his back serves as an important plot device, so I guess they thought the rest of it was okay. Bombshell and Leech Woman get the best parts in the movie when they have two amazingly hilarious cat fights in the film's conclusion, complete with hair pulling. So, so funny.

Axis Rising follows the trend of the rest of the films by not being all that exciting action-wise. There are a few deaths, but nothing crazy or even bloody at all, but I was okay with that mostly. The movie is kind of cheesy and kind of bad, and I really didn't want or expect anything more. I've come to love that cheesy appeal of the Puppet Master films, which Axis Rising fits into very nicely.


So there you have it, horror fiends! That is the Puppet Master journey from beginning to end! Now I'm off to discover some new horror series.... wonder what I'll pick...

While you're waiting for that, here are the links to all my other Puppet Master reviews, in case you care:
Puppet Master
Puppet Master II
Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge
Puppet Master 4
Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter
Curse of the Puppet Master
Retro Puppet Master
Puppet Master: The Legacy
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Short and Sweet: "The Call"

What a stunning piece of work! Please, do yourselves a favor and check out today's spotlighted short film, "The Call" by filmmaker Stephen Sprinkles. According to him, "What I’ve hoped to create is a haunting visual poem that evokes the dichotomy between the horror in the coming of the H.P. Lovecraft monster Cthulhu as well as the beauty that can be found in the same scene."

Well, all I have to say is that Sprinkles more than succeeded at this task. It's a short piece at less than two minutes in length, but "The Call" is a wonderful visual effects feat that would probably make a lot of other filmmakers jealous. The featured actress is beautifully photogenic. The setting that she is in is detailed and expansive and the final money shot will put a real smile on your face. The music fits in beautifully, as well.

For some reason, YouTube embed codes are not working for me at all so I'll just have to post the link - please watch this one, it is AWESOME. The filmmaker also includes on his channel a 20-minute visual effects tutorial for this short film.

WATCH "THE CALL" HERE!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Movie Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

 
I don't know, you guys... I kinda liked this one, at least for the moment. Fan opinions are definitely divided in a "love it" or "hate it" way when it comes to As Above, So Below - I've seen the film on both people's best of 2014 and worst of 2014 lists. Like with many horror films nowadays, I avoided reading or watching anything about the film before seeing it, which was immensely helpful in my enjoyment of it - but I'm starting to think that maybe that enjoyment was only for the film's first viewing.

Young scholar Scarlett is on the hunt for the mystical philosopher's stone, which she believes is hidden in a secret chamber in the catacombs of Paris. Along with cameraman Benji, and friend and translator George, Scarlett employs a group of locals familiar with the catacombs to guide their way. Both the mystery and the danger of the place increases as they are forced to travel deeper and deeper into the catacombs in order to find a way out.

Of course the easiest thing to compare As Above, So Below to is that of a game of Tomb Raider, with Scarlett serving as our Lara Croft. The film plays out much like if you were playing a part of that game, and is full of history lessons, and solving riddles to open doors and find a way out of a certain chamber. With me as a viewer, this really wasn't much of a problem because I love all that stuff. The problem is that this can only really work once, and the movie pretty much has no replay value. So did I like it just because the reveal of what was going on was cool, or is it actually a good movie? That's really up to you. Another problem comes when looking at how the filming was handled.

With found footage movies, there is always the question of whether or not a particular film even needed to be done in the FF style. I'll say it again: I love these movies and don't have a problem with them on principle and love when they are done well. As Above, So Below is done well, but the reason for the style is not a strong one, and therefore not needed at all. It ends up almost ruining the film's atmosphere. It all would have worked so much better had the film been made in the traditional narrative way. In a setting that should be able to build tension and be scary enough on its own, the filmmakers instead choose to quickly move through it all so that there is hardly a shred of suspense left. Of course the characters need to get out of the catacombs but it's not like there was a clock running or anything. The film could have benefitted so much more by just slowing things down a bit and spending some more time allowing the audience to really feel where the characters were.

As for the characters themselves, they're just fine. There is not anybody you'll totally hate and not anybody you'll be totally in love with, either. Perdita Weeks as Scarlett is cute, with a charming accent and a demeanor that, despite her constant outpouring of knowledge, does not come off as pompous. George is the voice of reason that goes unheard throughout the movie, and Benji is the only slightly annoying one, but only because he understandably freaks out a lot. Catacomb tour guide Papillon and his crew are equally likable, but hardly anything is known about them. The movie tries to rectify the lack of real character depth by adding a personal, psychological element to the story that works for some scenes, but doesn't necessarily work overall.

The movie does have a small number of jump scares, but we all know by now that those are not enough to satisfy even the casual viewer. They're there one minute and quickly forgotten about in the next, and hardly even that effective. There is definitely one good and memorable bit - the part with Papillon and the burning car. Much like the movie's plot turns, I did not see that one coming. There's also the ever-popular shots of creepy people in the catacombs and the "hey, did you just see that person go through the background?" shots. However, nothing ever really comes from the possible scares or foes that the movie sets up. The weird girl at the club? She's just a weird girl chanting with other people in the catacombs. Why? We never find out. The cloaked figure? No idea. Death? Maybe. All of this also adds to the fact that the movie leaves lot more questions unanswered than it thinks it does.

I still stand by my initial liking of the film because it is a great movie to just watch one time to see the puzzle get ever more puzzling, and take you to places you never thought you would go when the movie starts. The plot itself is the best part of As Above, So Below, it's the overall execution of it that doesn't do it any justice. The found footage style was a poor choice that sadly lessened the film's potential intensity.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Movie Review: Witchboard (1986)

 
So instead of possibly boring and disappointing myself with the recent film Ouija, I decided instead to check out this other Ouija board-inspired flick that I had faintly heard about a few times. Witchboard, written and directed by Kevin Tenney of Night of the Demons horror fame, is an interesting 80s output that doesn't feature a lot of action or gore, but is still a rather interesting and different approach to the chosen story.

When Linda's friend Brandon brings a Ouija board to a party and contacts a spirit named David, Linda becomes more and more interested with the board and starts talking to David herself. Her boyfriend Jim notices a change in her behavior, but is skeptical that the board has anything to do with it - or with the strange deaths that start to occur. Brandon tries to convince Jim that the spirit - whoever it actually is - is dangerous and is actually wants to possess Linda.

Witchboard hovers pretty heavily over the line between horror and horror/comedy, but never fully commits to either one. The movie is not at all scary or suspenseful, nor is it ever laugh-out-loud funny. But you know what? That's okay. Like I said, Tenney's approach to the story is different from what others might have done, which is part of what makes it such an interesting film. It doesn't seem typical of an 80s film - it takes itself more seriously, and is not at all sleazy, cheesy, or cheap (in the good way). Witchboard establishes an odd and difficult tone for itself, but it manages to make it work.

Even though there are supernatural forces at work here, the occurrences are relatively tame and not that exciting. It's usually just a couple of jump moments with things getting thrown around, although there is one pretty cool moment with Linda in the kitchen. A knife goes flying off a magnetic board on the refrigerator and lands blade down on a rug. Then a bottle of ketchup turns over and drips down right on the spot where the knife fell. A nice little creative, ominous moment there. There's also a quick shower scene where Linda is trapped under scalding hot water and has to break her way out. The séance scene is fairly creepy with the way that David speaks through the medium - and this is really the only creepy thing to look forward to (makes my ghost-loving self kinda sad).

Some outside characters are the ones who have to die in Witchboard. The first is a friend of Jim's who is killed by falling sheetrock on a construction site. Jim's missing hatchet becomes the culprit that causes the accident, which brings in this whole unnecessary sideplot with a detective who is convinced that Jim is a killer. Seriously, it's not that important. Another poor soul is first chased through their house by an unseen force and then tossed out a window where they land on a very sharp sundial. Again, points for creativity. The death of a main character was very surprising, and actually made me mad because I liked the guy. He gets a hatchet to the face and then falls in the water - but I'm still trying to figure out how the ghost got the hatchet in the first place and where it went... The climactic scene between the spirit and Jim also has the movie's big effects shots within close succession of each other. The quality is indicative of the time, if you get what I mean, but I didn't mind so much.

Now, Tawny Kitaen is not the first person that comes to mind when thinking about people who should be in horror movies. I'll be damned, though, if she wasn't pretty decent. Her portrayal of Linda is not anything Oscar-worthy, of course, but she establishes a character well and gives a convincing performance, which is all you could really hope for. The two guys playing Jim and Brandon - Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols - are cute in their 80s way (guys back then really knew how to wear jeans, lemme tell you) and their animosity towards each other is part of what makes the movie funny at times. Actress Kathleen Wilhoite (Susan's sister from "ER," thank you very much!) plays medium Zarabeth and wears one of the craziest and literally the most noisy outfit I've ever seen. She keeps trying to provide some "psychic humor" but mostly ends up being more annoying than funny. Actually one of the last scenes is probably the funniest because they try to fake the audience out on what is happening.

Witchboard is odd and somewhat unpredictable, but it's a nice change of pace from a decade that had so many movies that were similar to each other.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Review: Puppet Master [9]: Axis of Evil (2010)

 
I have finally gotten over my anger at Puppet Master 8 long enough to trudge along to the next film in the series. It wasn't easy, I tell you. That movie was a really, really disappointing piece of shit. Granted, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, the ninth film in the series, is not hugely impressive or anything but it's still a fuck of a lot better than its predecessor.

Taking place literally immediately after the first Puppet Master, this film introduces a new master that has never been mentioned before. Young Danny Coogan works at the Bodega Bay Inn and takes the puppets from their hiding spot after Andre Toulon kills himself. The Nazis who came after Toulon apparently also had another mission - and Danny and the puppets work together to put a stop to them.

So I had a slight panic attack at the beginning of this movie when they started showing archival footage from the original Puppet Master. But thankfully only just enough was used to establish the new timeline, and actually, the old and the new footage blend together fairly well. The Nazi guys are obviously completely different, but the set was recreated with some care, and it was wonderful to see the original Toulon, William Hickey, again (although I prefer Guy Rolfe). Also a bit physically different are the puppets themselves. The design of Blade and Pinhead in particular are just a little off, although not radically.

If you've followed my Puppet Master reviews thus far, you've probably realized that I like the story best when it deals with Toulon and the Nazi angle. Well, Toulon obviously doesn't make it into this story so that sucks. Incredibly bad and stilted acting aside, the Nazi angle gets handled as best it can. Apparently, it was part of Hitler's evil plan for two random Nazis to hook up with one random Japanese chick to blow up this one random building in New York. There is some kind of American "secret ingredient" inside for making their missiles more powerful or something stupid like that, I don't remember. What I remember most from this movie is the horrible dialogue delivery from Dragon Lady, with all kinds of weird pauses and such. Oh, and her nails are also quite memorable. Those things were out of control. I like the color, though.

Sadly, once again, the puppets seem to only be a small plot point in Axis of Evil. We have to go through the whole thing of Danny messing with the puppets and figuring out how to animate them - INJECT THE GREEN STUFF INTO THEIR NECKS, JACKHOLE - and then they occasionally get some screen time. But really, why did he have to animate them again anyway? He got them literally right after Toulon put them into the trunk, so shouldn't they still be animated? This movie introduces us to a brand-new puppet, a ninja puppet cleverly named Ninja. The fun side to this guy is that he has the soul of Danny's brother Don, who as they establish a few times earlier in the movie is really good at sneaking up on people. See what they did there? Ninja has his trusty throwing stars and pretty much looks like a ninja except for his weird glowy red eyes. And Leech Woman is back!

Aside from the aforementioned Dragon Lady, the acting in this installment is surprisingly not that bad. It's incredibly cheesy and lame, like a bad war effort promotional video from the actual time period or something, but all the actors do their best with it. Danny, Don, their mother, and Danny's girlfriend Beth are quite likable (but still lame). It's pretty cruel when Mom and Don are gunned down by Nazi Klaus, but at least this part kicks off the final action sequence of the film. Leech Woman even gets in on it when she pukes up a leech onto the plate of one of the Japanese bodyguards and he stupidly eats it and somehow dies from it. The other bodyguard is tunneled in the head by Tunneler; Klaus gets a throwing star in his eye; and Max gets stabbed by Ninja. Dragon Lady escapes the film and the building with a bag that has the remaining puppets - Blade, Pinhead, and Ninja are left out - and the film ends by heavily implying that the next installment will be a direct continuation of this story. If it's not, then I will just be really pissed off and disappointed because that is no way to end a movie.

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is actually not a bad entry into the series. It's not really great, either, just... passable. More important though, guys: Do I really just have ONE film left before I have completely finished the Puppet Master series? I can hardly believe it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Movie Review: The Guest (2014)

 
Usually when I'm watching a new film that I plan to review for my blog, I like to take little notes that might help me with the review later. A funny line to remember here, a cool kill or special effect there. When I sat down to watch The Guest, I had my notebook out and ready to go - and I didn't write a single word. I could not force myself to take my eyes off the screen for that long.

A man named David arrives one day at the home of the Peterson family, claiming to be a military friend of their son who died overseas. David quickly befriends the family and includes himself in their lives, but something is obviously not right with him... and daughter Anna soon becomes very suspicious of this seemingly perfect houseguest.

Right from the beginning, the movie doesn't fuck around with the usual plot pleasantries. There are no opening credits, just a short starting shot, and then "The Guest" in large purple-bluish letters (odd color choice) with ominous music underneath. Two minutes into the movie, the doorbell rings and the audience is introduced to the guest in question, David. From then on, the movie burns at a sort of slow pace, with just enough humor and pops of action to keep the audience watching and waiting for what they know is probably going to be something really awesome at the climax. Of course I knew to expect something awesome because The Guest comes to us courtesy of my current favorite filmmaking duo, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I promise to stop talking about how much I love them when they stop making awesome films. Which is hopefully never.

Actor Dan Steven expertly plays David. Stevens brings to David that brilliant combination of charming, chilling, and creepy. Some of this comes out from Barrett's dialogue, but it is also aided by Stevens' piercing blue eyes and chiseled good looks. He plays the role calmly but with immense control at the same time - able to completely change his demeanor with a simple tic of his mouth or flick of his eyes. In his action scenes he barely has to move, but still causes a lot of damage, which is what makes these scenes a lot of fun.

The Peterson family is also a nice combination of veterans and newcomers who all bring something to the table for their individual roles. Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser (both of whom I knew only by face and not name before this) are the parents, Laura and Spencer. Laura is grieving and therefore too trusting of David, and Spencer is the skeptical one - but only at first. After he finally trusts David, all of his lines seem to be about having a drink with him. Friendless son Luke is played by Brendan Meyer, and Maika Monroe as Anna is really the one who carries most of the film, and she does it well. The only problem is that the two siblings don't really have that much contact through most of the film, which becomes a slight flaw by the conclusion.

What really drives the movie, possibly even more than the performances, is the soundtrack. I admittedly don't have that great of an ear for music, but it would be hard for anyone to ignore the beats that wonderfully accompany many scenes in The Guest. Where other horror films would have creepy piano music, or where an action movie might have the latest popular radio tune, the music here is funky and electronic, with an 80s vibe that really shouldn't fit in with the story but somehow does. It was weird and different, and was strangely what pulled me more into some scenes that otherwise might have been boring.

The Guest is completely not what you think it is going to be. The plot is as simple as it presents itself to be, but with the film laid out much like a horror film (with plenty of action thrown in there) you'll probably be looking into reasons and motivations a lot more than you need to. I know I was. I dared to look on IMDb to see the consensus view on this film and almost all the posts seem to be of the "worst movie ever!!!" variety, so maybe The Guest is one of those movies that will not affect everyone in the same way. I found it to be a pretty slick and cool tale from two filmmakers who manage to once again take our expectations and turn them on their head.

Sidenote: Near the end of the film, in the Halloween maze, did it say "You're next" on the wall? I only saw "you're" and it seemed like it was written similarly to how it was in the movie You're Next, which is a nice nod to Wingard and Barrett's previous film, obviously. Very fun.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Review: Gutterballs (2008)

 
Sophistication met utter crap the other night when my movie-watching Friday was a mash-up of Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones, immediately followed by... Gutterballs. I'm not even really sure what made me add Gutterballs to my queue in the first place, and it almost pains me to admit that I didn't regret it. That much.

(By the way, A Walk Among the Tombstones is really good.)

Two rival bowling teams meet at the alley after hours for a little healthy competition. But things turn bad after one game, when hottie Lisa is brutally gang raped by all four members of the opposing team. The next night, the bowling alley becomes a scene of equally brutal slaughter when a masked killer starts picking off all the players one by one.

This is a movie that I don't really know what to do with. As an extremely trashy, annoying, exploitation movie throwback, Gutterballs definitely succeeds, and almost rises beyond what it needs to do in order to live up to that reputation. Filmmaker Ryan Nicholson takes the typical rape/revenge exploitation plot, adds in the requisite over-the-top villains (the rapists, not the killer), peppers in other airhead characters to be fodder for the killer, and tops it all off with some ridiculously gory and equally exploitative kills. In a lot of ways, this setup worked for me. But there were a few things that took me out of the film's cheesy world that made me not completely love it for what it was.

All of the characters here are just gawd awful, as they should be. I didn't even really like any of the good guys, except maybe for Jamie and Lisa. Really, their stupid costuming was enough to make me not like these people. It's not even that the acting was bad - all of these guys were actually great at what they did and the people they were trying to portray. It's just that all these people are people that I wouldn't be able to stand being around. The true scene-stealers in terms of awfulness are of course Steve, AJ, and Joey - our three douchebaggy rapists. The fourth guy, Patrick, is the reluctant abuser which makes him slightly less douchebaggy than his friends. But only slightly. Steve must have seriously high blood pressure as he has a constant 'roid-rage attitude. Everything he says must be YELLED and every sentence he says must contain at least three uses of the word "fuck." But AJ, however, is just the worst. Again, props to the actor for his commitment, but OH MY GOODNESS. That laugh? That face he makes when he laughs? That popped collar??? I could not wait to see what kind of death this guy got.

Speaking of which. The gore in Gutterballs, I have to admit, was kind of amazing. There are truly some inventive and, like I said before, ridiculous kills, many of them bowling pin related. One person gets the worst eye-gouging I've ever seen with the sharpened end of a pin while another one just gets a pin shoved down their throat. Also with throats, there is a nice slashing and a strangling with the strings of a pair of bowling shoes. I can't even describe the first two deaths because they're just icky and you have to see it for yourself. Probably my favorite kill was the one involving the ball waxing machine (a machine for waxing BOWLING balls, just to be clear). Gutterballs also has what I am now calling the best shotgun death ever. One character gets a blast that hits him in the neck which makes his neck kind of explode, leaving his head to flop over to one side. One thing that was kind of pissing me off at first about these deaths was that all the good people were the ones dying, and that they were getting it just as bad, if not worse, than the rapists do later on. Nevertheless, the gore and effects in Gutterballs is actually really impressive and I quite enjoyed it.

The rape scene confused me a little. Sometimes it is actually shot the way it needs to be - from the victim's point of view, showing the harsh reality of the crime and the savagery of the offenders. But then the other half of the time, it is shot in a manner more along the lines of exploitation. There are many shots of Lisa's exposed, perfect breasts, and her long, slender legs on Steve's shoulders when he rapes her. So they somehow managed to sexualize and exploit the scene, and make it sympathetic at the same time. One really atrocious thing they do in this scene is feature these horrible, non-realistic sound effects for I'm assuming comedic purposes - because it's funny to rape a girl with a bowling pin.

Nevertheless, Gutterballs is pretty much exactly what it wanted to be. A completely crazy and kitschy exploitation film with all the sex, nudity, and gore that you could possibly stand from such a film. It's got real boobs, fake penises, buckets of blood, and according to Wikipedia, 625 uses of the word "fuck." Break out the popcorn and indulge in something truly trashy for your next movie night. And be prepared for Gutterballs 2: Balls Deep, which I believe they are currently working on!