Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

It may have taken a while to get Trick 'r Treat to the masses, but it didn't take horror fans long to embrace it as one of the best horror anthologies around. It is also one of the most perfect films to watch on Halloween night, because it wonderfully captures the spirit of the holiday as horror fans know and love it. Also, as an anthology, it is able to explore some of the most popular subgenres of horror, including werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and serial killers.

On Halloween night, a young man in a brown sack mask named Sam roams the streets, making sure the sacred traditions of Halloween are followed. There is plenty of mischief happening on this night, too - including a group of kids who take a prank way too far; a principal who has a deadly secret; a seemingly innocent girl who runs afoul of a masked man; and a hermit whose past finally catches up to him. I feel the best way to review an anthology is to just go through it segment by segment, so let's do this!

The short opening segment of Trick 'r Treat introduces audiences to the character of Sam (the name taken from "Samhain" though that's pronounced differently) and his job of protecting the sacred traditions of Halloween - and punishing those who don't follow them. Emma and Henry return home from a Halloween party, and while Henry warns her about keeping their jack o' lantern lit through the holiday night, but she blows it out anyway. Sam brutally dispatches of her with his pumpkin lollipop and adds her to her own front yard decorations. You really don't miss Emma's character at all, though, because this is a woman who actually says the words "I hate Halloween." We don't need people like that in the world.

After this scene, Trick 'r Treat takes a few liberties with the typical anthology format, as some of the stories are interwoven with each other and edited together simultaneously. The next segment to be told fully is the one with Principal Wilkins, and it has the same kind of ghoulish sense of humor like you would find in a Tales from the Crypt episode. Dylan Baker is awesome as Wilkins, as he is both creepy and darkly hilarious, especially in the scene where he's burying the body of a young student he just killed. The ending is another ghoulish twist that's hard not to love (though this isn't exactly the end of Principal Wilkins himself) and makes this segment a great one to start things off with.

The third segment tells the story of the Halloween School Bus Massacre, which is probably the most detailed and serious story of the bunch. This is one that would work great as a feature-length film because it has a very original story and has the potential to be very creepy and possibly gory. The location and set design of the rock quarry and the school bus in the lake looks amazing, as does the costuming on the school bus children. Innocuous masks are always creepier than scary ones. And who didn't love the little bitchy blonde girl dressed ironically like an angel? What an amazing little actress she is, and really did an awesome job with this role.

The segment I like to call "The Virgin" is next and it is definitely my favorite. It stars a quartet of hot chicks looking for dates on Halloween night, with Anna Paquin playing the virginal Laurie attempting to find someone to be her "first." Of course, the story does not play out at all how it sounds. The girls are all werewolves, and Laurie's virgin status refers to the fact that she's never killed anyone before. I love this segment simply because of the different way it handles the werewolf transformation scene, where the girls dance around the fire and start peeling off their skin as if it were their clothes. I love the way this sequence was filmed, and the use of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" cover. The werewolves aren't exactly the best looking ones out there, but the effects are awesome so it's really hard to fault them too much if at all.

The story of the recluse Mr. Kreeg rounds out this anthology and brings it to a very satisfying conclusion. Kreeg is the ultimate breaker of Halloween traditions, as he didn't decorate his house and is not handing out candy. The segment is a nice little cat-and-mouse game between Kreeg and Sam, who finally is unmasked and reveals himself to be this strange pumpkin-headed demon child thing. This part is maybe not as exciting or funny as the other stories in Trick 'r Treat but it did a good job of tying all the stories together at the end. The twist ending with Kreeg is predictable, maybe, but nice and really ends the whole movie on a great tone and note.

Oh, I'm just so happy that Trick 'r Treat exists. It's a perfect film to add to your Halloween viewing every year if you haven't already, and it's also just a great horror anthology. Trick 'r Treat 2 was announced last year around this time and hopefully creator Michael Dougherty can make that happen soon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: Stress Position (2013)

Stress Position came to me courtesy of Brink Vision as a screener (along with another screener that I will hopefully be getting to shortly) and it was a movie that I really, really wanted to like. Every time I read the description, I would get all these different ideas in my head about cool things I thought the movie would do. And I was enormously disappointed with what I got.

Stress Position is a sort of experiment between two friends, AJ and Dave, after a conversation they have about how well they could survive the torturous conditions of a place like Guantanamo Bay. They decide to put that to the test, and let one person have control of the other for one week and let them implement what torture they can come up with either until the end of the seven days, or until they break down and reveal the code that will give the torturer access to a bank account that holds $10,000. The only rule is that they can't do anything that will cause physical harm.

The movie is impressively and beautifully filmed in a way that is very eye-catching and appealing. The stark whiteness of the torture room and the torturers' costumes may seem bland, but it really serves to make you focus more on the characters and what is being said and done. Even the food and drink that AJ serves to David when he is in the room is white - milk comes out of a small spout in the wall and the food is The only thing in the room is a huge abstract metal structure that makes both the torture victim and the audience very uncomfortable, especially when one of the men is tied to it and you can see how painful it must be. The very first scene is interesting because it is just a five-minute conversation between AJ and David that introduces the tension in their friendship and sets up what the movie is about.

But that's really where the positives stop. The execution of the movie's interesting premise is, frankly, incredibly lame. The "torture" that AJ inflicts on David is more like just random annoying shit that has no effect on David whatsoever. AJ actually uses tickling as a torture method! He even strips David down to his underwear and brings in three hot chicks when he's trying the tickle torture in order to embarrass him more, but this turns out to be all for nil because... David is not ticklish. How boring. David is also forced to make a self-portrait out of his own hair in order to be able to go to the bathroom, and then he's ut of his own blood - it's not at all as interesting as it may sound.

When the tables are turned and AJ becomes the victim, things are completely unbalanced. While AJ's torture methods never really went beyond the psychological, one of the first things David does is freaking waterboard AJ. Um, how is that not against their previously agreed upon rules? In truth, AJ's acting like a bit of a dick during his week with David kind of makes the audience want him to get his comeuppance, and so he does. The ending seems to suggest that the whole movie was really about AJ or at least leading up to his big reveal from the torture, and it is totally anticlimactic and again, lame.

After watching the film, I still had many questions and was happy to see that the DVD included a commentary track from both director AJ Bond and actor David Amito. However, listening to it confused me a lot more than I already was. If I understand correctly, Stress Position is not exactly a fictional film. Bond and Amito really had the conversation about Guantanamo and really did decide to do this experiment with each other and film it and make it into a movie. The film was not necessarily scripted - they just came up with ideas and then shot them. So they were playing themselves in a way and they really did torture each other, but it's still sort of a fictional film. I don't know how they made this whole idea work for themselves because it did not work at all for me.

It's an interesting but completely confusing and messed up idea for a movie that really isn't as cool as they think it is. Someone else could probably take this story and make it much more complex and a much better character study than what these guys came up with. It is too specific to their personal lives and therefore does not have as big an impact on a general audience. Stress Position looks pretty and is executed well, but the story is very weak and hard to understand for people that were not involved in the project.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Short and Sweet: Forever Light (2014)

Another short film for those like me who sometimes have problems with their attention spans. This one is a little ditty called "Forever Light," by filmmaker Ryan P. Adams. There's not much to it, as it is only two minutes long, but I have to give it a shout-out because the filmmaking quality is aces and looks very professional. There's a nice WTF ending that gives the story room to grow. I dig it! I Also, the actress also reminds me of Famke Janssen and I love her, so bonus points there. Enjoy!

Watch This Cute As Hell Music Video

So because I'm a horror-lovin' gal, somebody sent me the link to this music video for the Chicago band Common Shiner, performed by a local comedy group. It's a very cute and funny video starring some of our favorite slashers as high school students, combines the movies in a really clever way, and is filmed really beautifully. The song is not my style but it matches well with the action. If you got five minutes, give it a watch! It'll make you chuckle.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Hocus Pocus has always been a huge favorite of mine - one of those movies that I just had to watch whenever I saw it come on TV. I didn't even realize until recently how much everyone else seems to love it, too, and what a big following it has. And that's just fine, because though Hocus Pocus is a PG rated Halloween film, it is clever and fun enough for every horror fan to enjoy.

In the town of Salem, Massachusetts over 300 years ago, the Sanderson sisters are three witches who suck the lives out of child in order to give themselves immortality, and are therefore hanged for the crime. Now in the present day, these three bewitching beauties have returned and it is up to skeptical California boy Max; his younger sister Dani; his high school love interest Allison; and a talking cat named Binx to stop them from finishing what they started 300 years ago.

I don't care who you are, Hocus Pocus is a rad Halloween movie, or just a rad movie in general. It's one of those childhood movies that never ages in your mind, and always retains the same charm and lovability that it had when you were ten years old. Its star performers perhaps give it more credibility, but I think what people love about it is its endearing sense of humor that works for people of any age, and also its fun and quick pacing that tells a more than entertaining story. Black flame candles, riding vacuum cleaners like brooms, hiding out in cemeteries, dancing with the devil... Hocus Pocus has everything you could want in a movie that celebrates the best holiday of the year.

The Sanderson Sisters are no doubt the biggest stars of the show because of the hilarious and amazing performances by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. They all had a gleeful time with their roles, giving each sister a distinct, side-splitting personality, so much so that it's hard to pick a favorite. Midler's personality as Winifred Sanderson is just as big as her red hairdo, and of course she dazzles us all with a wonderful performance of the song "I Put a Spell on You." Parker also has a memorable song in the movie herself, when she is riding on her broom, luring children to the Sanderson's house. Her performance as the ditzy sister Sarah is so freaking adorable, and she has such amazing comedic ability and timing that it's a wonder she didn't do similar stuff later on. Literally everything that comes out of her mouth is quotable. Najimy has always been a great comedienne, so it's no surprise that she kills it here as Mary, who by the way, also has a bitching hairdo.

The rest of the cast is also pretty stellar. Omri Katz as Max doesn't have many other credits to his name, which is a shame considering the great performance he gave in Hocus Pocus. Little sister Dani is one of my favorite actresses (both when she was a child and as an adult), Miss Thora Birch. And Vinessa Shaw, who turned out a beautiful and heart-breaking performance in The Hills Have Eyes, makes her character of Allison very likable and sweet. There's also two great cameos from Penny and Gary Marshall to watch out for, and even the two actors playing Max and Dani's parents are a hoot. And how could anyone forget Billy, the sweetest and most adorable zombie in history?

Another reason to enjoy Hocus Pocus? The two most non-threatening bullies ever: Jay and Ernie... I mean, Ice.

The picture doesn't show it, but am I the only one who thought Jay had the most beautiful smile ever? Anywho, it does seem like with this kind of all-around talent that Hocus Pocus was destined to be a success, and I think we are all very thankful for that.
Many more paragraphs could not do justice to the awesomeness that is Hocus Pocus. It has been a part of pretty much every Halloween since I can remember and will hopefully continue to be for many years to come (in fact, I know it will be because I finally bought it on DVD this year). It easily appeals to both younger and older audience alike with its sense of humor but also with the seriousness that it has about its own mythos. I can't even talk about my favorite moments in Hocus Pocus because the whole movie is my favorite moment. I love it, and I know you all do too!

Also, I just had my mind blown when I was doing some quick IMDb research and found out that the character's name is actually "Thackery" Binx and not Zachary. All these years I guess I just thought that everyone in the film had a weird lisp...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Movie Review: The Sacrament (2013)

Some of my favorite filmmaking people come together again for 2013's The Sacrament, a movie vehemently recommended to me by the lovely Sharni Vinson herself. I have a cool life sometimes. Anyway. I had to wait much longer than I wanted to in order to see The Sacrament but I was happy to see that it mostly lived up to my expectations.

Two documentary filmmakers, Sam and Jake, follow their friend Patrick to an undisclosed foreign country to potentially rescue his sister because Patrick fears that she has fallen in with a radical Christian cult. The men arrive at the heavily guarded Eden Parish, where everyone is as happy as can be under the leadership of a man known as "Father." But when Sam and Jake get the real story of Eden Parish from some residents, they realize they might not make it out of there alive.

What surprised me the most about The Sacrament was how simple the story was. This unfortunately was also what disappointed me most about the movie. If you've ever watched any documentary about cults, or most specifically if you know the story of the Jonestown massacre, then this is the most predictable movie ever. So I guess I was disappointed that the movie was basically just a simplistic retelling of Jonestown with nothing really new added to the story. Writer and director Ti West was obviously going for the more realistic approach to the story and I would say he excelled at that.

The Sacrament is a beautiful film, and another found footage output that takes advantage of the fact that the people behind the cameras are supposed to be professionals and not amateurs. It almost looks way better than it should. Scenes are full of bright light and muted earth tone colors, which is all wonderfully juxtaposed by the constant foreboding tone of the film's score. It seems to be there to keep reminding you that you should be scared, and that all this is a lie. There are times when the found footage aspect is called into question, though - especially in the scene where Father talks to the group before the "last sacrament." It is supposed to be just Caroline who has a video camera, yet the scene is shot from several different angles all at once. One little thing that I liked that they did with the look of the film was have the opening credits appear on screen as lower-thirds, the kind of thing that you see in documentaries and on the news as a way to identify the people speaking on screen with their name and title. It makes the film look and feel like a real documentary.

My new favorite AJ Bowen comes back to me as nice guy Sam, the guy who can't help but try to do something when he finds out the sinister happenings at Eden Parish. My goodness, he's adorable and I want him. His co-star from A Horrible Way to Die, Amy Seimetz, is with him again here as Caroline. She is perfect as the jolly, yet creepy, everything-is-wonderful-here cult girl who spouts nothing but positives about Eden Parish - and you don't believe a single word of it. In an eerie reminder of the leader of the Peoples Temple of Jonestown, actor Gene Jones portrays Father. He does very much resemble a father figure (in fact, he looks a lot like my deceased grandfather) whom you believe could possess the charm and charisma to have power over all these people. Joe Swanberg and Kentucker Audley as Jake and Patrick respectively have their moments here and there but are mostly left in the background, or behind the camera.

Despite the predictability of the cyanide poisoning sequence, West still makes it a horrible thing to watch. Something I loved that he did here was not only showing people seizing and vomiting violently, but also showing the little things that are just as horrific when you look at the circumstance. The mixing of the cyanide in a large punch bowl and watching children absently drinking it up like it was their morning milk, with their parents encouraging them. The fear and uncertainty on the faces of some of the congregation as they stare at their Styrofoam cups. And worst of all, the woman who approaches the obvious baby bundle in the arms of its mother with a syringe full of the laced punch.

After this, there are a couple more shock moments that haunted me for the rest of the evening, and the film concludes. Though The Sacrament was predictable and maybe less than I hoped for story-wise, I was still very satisfied with what I got. The film is a tight, tense thriller made by a filmmaker who more than knows what he's doing, and the acting is perfect by all involved. Thumbs up.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: "Yeitso" by Scott M. Baker

Thanks to the people at Author Marketing Experts for hooking me up with author Scott M. Baker and his new horror-thriller novel, Yeitso. And thank you to Scott Baker himself for leaving me two awesome notes to go with the book! How amazing, I love being able to have that kind of connection to the author of stuff that I'm reviewing! The description of the novel was delightfully intriguing, yet cryptic, so I wasn't really sure what I was in store for. But to my immense surprise, Yeitso was completely unlike any other horror book that I have read recently, and it is a wonderful nod to one of my favorite subsets of the horror genre.

When New York City detective Russell Andrews moves his teenage daughter to small desert town in New Mexico called Los Alamos to be the Chief of Police, he expected it to be a quiet and safer change of pace from the big city. Not long after the starts his new job, though, a young man is brutally killed and another girl disappears. But the evidence does not point to a typical murder, and in fact reveals the truth about a huge danger that lurks in the desert, something unlike anything seen before.

The first thing that is a sign to me of a good book is if it has likable and believable characters. The main focus is on Russell, and he is portrayed as just being your typical good guy, a little haunted by his past work as a cop in NYC and the affect it had on his relationship with his family, but still hopeful that things will all work out. I was happy that Russell's daughter Kiera was not a clichéd police officer's child who scorns his rules and is all rebellious, causing problems. To a point, she does loathe having the Chief for a father, mainly because of what it does to her social life, but she loves him to death and wants to protect him. Kiera became my favorite character in the scene where she first encounters the mean girls at school, and pretty much annihilates them with her New York girl attitude. I also loved Kiera's immediate approval of her father's new girlfriend, police officer Molly Collins. Molly is a sweetheart, but also a no-nonsense that's not afraid to get her hands dirty when the craziness starts. Entomologist Anne Sheridan is a great addition to the ensemble as the one who provides all the useful information about the big bad in the book.

If you want to know just what is going on with Yeitso, the cover should give you a little hint. But even that is misleading, because with this book, it seems Baker is channeling Franz Kafka, in a way, as he makes the villain in the piece be... giant beetles! How fun is that? And before you go thinking that beetles don't seem that scary or like that big of a threat, let me just tell you that you are wrong. Creature features are a much-beloved horror subgenre of yours truly, and I loved the stuff that Baker brought to this table with Yeitso. The beetles are not genetically altered or anything, they've just survived underground for many years and are freed on the modern world by way of a landslide.

Author Scott M. Baker
The beetles are able to create a lot of nastiness because they can shoot out a burning acid at their victims, and later on, their mandibles work wonderfully as a giant pair of scissors to cut through human bodies. Though the book is not a gore fest or anything really extreme like that, it still has enough wonderfully graphic descriptions to satisfy my love for some good ol' creature feature fun. In the beginning, there is just one big bug to deal with and when that one is spectacularly dealt with (by Molly of all people!), most of the middle part of the book is spent on Russell and team searching the desert for any nests of baby beetle pupae. This is where the book loses a bit of its momentum when all the action pretty much stops. However, Baker is still able to build the right amount of tension for the conclusion because of the constant talk of the annual rave that will take place in the desert. Admittedly, this climax was not the full-on massacre that I was expecting - but I guess since most of the victims would have been high school age kids, that would have been kind of wrong.

With some wonderfully drawn, likable characters; a worthy and unusual foe; and a nice pacing that sets just the right mood, Scott Baker's Yeitso is a very entertaining thrill ride that I loved every word of. It was a welcome change from the vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories that I've been reading lately (not that I don't still love all those) and it manages to be just as exciting as any of those stories. I would definitely suggest giving this one a chance!

Buy Yeitso here!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Satan's Little Helper (2004)

I know I'm a day late, but let me just take the time to welcome all my fellow horror fiends to the wonderful month of October, which as we all know is the greatest time of the year.
This year, I actually have a blog plan for October where I am going to spotlight some "Halloween Rules" Reviews that will be on movies that take place on Halloween. First up is 2004's Satan's Little Helper!
I've seen Satan's Little Helper mentioned here and there for films to watch or that just take place on Halloween. It seems to most often be put into that category of a horror "gem" and that is what I was really hoping to find here for myself. The movie does have a pretty awesome start, but a quick change in tone and some seriously stupid characters don't let me give it my full thumbs up.

Little Dougie is a boy who loves his video game Satan's Little Helper, and even dresses up like the character for Halloween. He is also very attached his older sister Jenna and becomes jealous when she brings new boyfriend Alex home for the holiday. While wandering the neighborhood, Dougie meets up with a costumed, silent man whom he believes to be Satan - when in fact, he's actually a vicious serial killer.

Satan's Little Helper is sooooo much fun in the beginning. The morbid sense of humor really plays well in the scenario of the kid thinking that the killer is just playing as he wrecks havoc on their tiny town of Bell Island. The scene where the two meet is one of the best - Dougie mistakes the dead body that Satan, a man wearing a black suit and a mask with a huge, devilish grin, is posing outside of a house for a very realistic dummy. Satan (silently) agrees to have Dougie be his little helper. All of this also works because the character of Dougie Whooly is perhaps the most brain-dead child I have seen in a film. He will henceforth be referred to as Dumbass Dougie. Seriously, my 4-year-old nephew has a better understanding of what is real and what is make-believe than this idiot.

Anywho, things get really interesting when Dumbass Dougie has Satan attack Alex, and then takes him home, where his mother and sister are convinced that it is actually Alex behind the mask. Sister Jenna is played by Katheryn Winnick, and I surprisingly really liked her character, mostly because she was a good sister to Dumbass Dougie. She also actually does shit when the family is fighting against Satan instead of being the hysterical screaming girl that is so annoying. The best character of all is Amanda Plummer as the mother because... well, because she's Amanda Plummer and she's awesome at being quirky and funny. Though the guy behind the Satan mask has to rely on just specific hand gestures and actions for his acting, it's pretty effective. He has a great moment where he's setting up Alex's body in front of an abandoned house and he cutely poses for pictures for a woman passing by who, again, thinks it's just a clever Halloween decoration. Although, I did not enjoy the kitty murder in this scene. Not at all.

The main reason I can't love Satan's Little Helper completely is that there is one thing about it that niggled at me. It suddenly changes tone way too quickly and therefore loses a lot of its charm for the conclusion. I was really liking the film for the first two-thirds or three-fourths - I don't know the exact math, but it was around the time when Dumbass Dougie finally realizes that Satan is not his friend. This happens in the most horrifying way possible when Satan murders the boy's father right in front of Dumbass Dougie, and also his mother and sister. And he doesn't just murder him - he slices him open, pulls out his (totally fake looking) intestines and ties them around the dining room chair. Wow. Way to completely kill the mood. Even the part after this when Satan takes the mother to the party at Bell Tower wrapped in masking tape is not as funny as it should be because of this.

Nevertheless, Satan's Little Helper more than delivers in the rest of the film on just the right amount of inappropriate humor that will really make you laugh out loud - mostly out of shock and a feeling of "Oh my goodness, did they really just do that?" The best part is definitely when Satan and Dumbass Dougie go grocery shopping and have fun mowing down people in the parking lot with a shopping cart - earning lots of points for hitting a pregnant woman and a blind man, I might add. So wrong, but so funny. Also very wrong is the Jesus costume that he dons later on in the film to once again trick Dumbass Dougie, which brings about the line from Jenna that "Jesus is Satan!" If I was a religious girl, I might be horribly offended at that, but I'm not, so I just got a really good chuckle out of it. I also liked that there was never any big unmasking of Satan. It is left completely open as to who or what he really is - is he the arsonist that everyone is talking about? Is he just some random serial killer? Or is he really Satan himself?

I would say that Satan's Little Helper is indeed a gem. It's not perfect, and definitely has some flaws here and there, but its darkly humorous tone and the nonchalant way the filmmakers express it really sets the film apart. Fun times with this one!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie Review: Motivational Growth (2013)

I hate to constantly use the phrase "this movie was not what I expected it to be" but... this movie was not what I expected it to be. In fact, Motivational Growth was much better than I could have hoped for. There have been a couple times now where movies with the dumbest premises ever have turned out to be brilliantly done, and I seriously love movies like that.

Motivational Growth is the story of Ian Folivor, a young man who is obviously depressed and has not left his apartment in over a year. After the death of his television set Kent, he tries to kill himself in his bathroom but fails - and begins to turn his life around by taking advice from a chatty growth of mold in his gross bathroom. The Mold claims to want to help Ian, but are its intentions really good, or evil?

With its small but dynamic cast and limited location, Motivational Growth is truly a brilliant film - it just chooses to deal with its subject matter in a very unconventional way, which can often lead to something much more intriguing than just a straight drama or comedy film. Though Motivational Growth was much more serious than the trailer led me to believe, I found myself really enjoying the fact that it was more than just a goofy comedy, and even more enjoying how beautifully filmed and acted the movie was. Even Ian's disgusting apartment is somehow beautiful to me because of the talent it shows for set design. In fact, there are many different talents at work in Motivational Growth, both on and off screen, and I know that this review is not going to do them all justice.

The dialogue is really the shining star of Motivational Growth. Its dry wit and cultural references made it possible for the writer to sneak in humor all throughout the film, even though the premise of the film itself should have provided enough humor. Ian serves not only as the film's main character but also as its narrator, as there are several times when he breaks the fourth wall to give some more direct character insight to the audience. He also provides some great lines of dialogue that truly made me laugh out loud - "If it wasn't for the sores, I don't think I'd have a reason to get up at all,"  "Panic is a weird state. Not like Wyoming is a weird state, either..." Each character that comes into Ian's life has their own crazy personality that is accentuated and expressed through their speech, and they were all awesome to meet.

Actor Adrian DiGiovanni couldn't be more perfect as Ian; he not only looks the part, but he plays him as so wonderfully lovable and pitiful at the same time. Genre favorite Jeffrey Combs provides the voice of The Mold, and he expertly and hilariously delivers every run-on, rambling line of dialogue that The Mold spews out. Seriously, I lost track of what he was saying half the time but it was still fun to listen to him talk. Danielle Doetsch is ridiculously cute as Leah, the object of Ian's affections, and her upbeat acting will just bring a huge smile to your face. My favorite character was actually Vanessa the grocery delivery girl, with her no-nonsense attitude and pink hair highlights. Two television repair men, a nice but scary landlord, and some very interesting fake television stars round out the rest of this oddball group of characters.

The ending of Motivational Growth is a hard one for me to figure out. The biggest reason for this is because it seems to have about three different endings at the same time so I am totally at a loss as to what really happened with Ian. (Here, I'll reluctantly give a SPOILER warning.) The emotional side of me wants to believe that The Mold and all the strange occurrences were maybe just all in Ian's head and that it was his own willpower and the inspiration of Leah that made him turn his life around and get the girl in the end. However, the logical side of me has me more believing that Ian's suicide attempt was actually successful and that that vision of his liquefying body on the bathroom floor was real. But whatever the vehicle - dream or not or whatever - Ian still walks out of his apartment at the end of the film, hand in hand with Leah, and that's really all you want to see for the character throughout the movie. And I thank the filmmakers for giving that to me.

It doesn't matter whether you get a deep message out of Motivational Growth or if you just watch it to laugh your butt off listening to Jeffrey Combs's voice coming out of an animated mold puppet thing. There are few films that can compare with the uniqueness of Motivational Growth and that is no doubt its strength and what will draw a lot of curious movie-watchers to it. Just remember: The Mold knows, Jack. The Mold knows.

Thanks to October Coast PR for the screener! Motivational Growth will be available on VOD on September 30, 2014 and its US DVD release is October 7, 2014.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This of course was not my first time watching The Blair Witch Project. It was, however, the first time I had watched the film in about 15 years, since it first came out. Despite its huge popularity, I saw the movie back when it was released, hated it, and have pretty much avoided it ever since. Texas Frightmare Weekend got me thinking about it again some months ago because the actors were reuniting as guests, so I decided that it deserved a second chance.

A plot synopsis is probably not necessary but that's what I always do in the second paragraph of my reviews so here we go: Three young filmmakers head into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to make a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local urban legend. Never seen again, the only clues as to what happened to them is in the video footage they shot, which was found one year after their disappearance.

Since I felt like I was basically watching the movie for the first time, having hardly remembered it from so long ago, I was actually hoping that my feelings about it would change. Not the case. Mostly, I still found the movie to be very boring and disappointing. It is not a movie about the Blair Witch at all but rather a movie about three people lost in the woods. The only tension you feel is the relationship between the characters and there is not a single scary moment in the whole movie having to do with what we are supposed to be scared of.

And actually, that is still my biggest problem with the movie - I honestly don't know what I'm supposed to be scared of. All of the interviews at the beginning about the Blair Witch, the man who murdered children, and the incident at Coffin Rock - none of these things are ever connected to be the work of one thing. The piles of rocks that appear outside of the kids' camp? The stick formations in the trees? I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, and again, no idea how it connects to the supposed Blair Witch, so how can I be scared of it? Why should I be scared of the sound of branches breaking in the woods? There are animals in the woods, if I'm not mistaken, and they can make noises - like branches breaking. Okay, teeth... yes, the teeth thing worried me a bit, but it almost comes too little too late. And I don't know if this was my bad hearing or what, but if it weren't for the closed captioning on my TV, I wouldn't have heard some of those supposedly scary noises the kids were hearing outside the tent - even with the volume turned all the way up.

One opinion that did change was the one I had about the characters. They are more likable this time around and what is really impressive is their acting when the situation gets worse and worse. Heather's articulate voice makes her a good leader, and it's less annoying because she doesn't do as many slip-ups as one would probably do in real life. Mike and Josh are not douchebags in the least, and are so sympathetic and wonderful, even when they are being mean to Heather. Their acting shows true frustration and desperation, completely believable and real, and I applaud that. It's hard to get right.

My only, tiny character problem is this: I have a bit of experience interviewing people on camera, so I can't not say anything about what a HORRIBLE interviewer Heather is. The people she is talking to are trying to tell their story and all you hear in the background is Heather going, "Uh-huh", "Right..." "Really?", and she continuously interrupts them in the middle of sentences. Shut. Up. Maybe it's a good thing they disappeared because the audio on their documentary would have sounded like shit.

I also have a bit of experience with found footage movies now, so the shaky cam didn't even faze me, and in fact, it's not really that bad to begin with. It's bad enough to look like it was shot by an amateur (and actually, I think it was) but there is some good framing here and there. For some reason I really like the shot of Heather running away from the tent. I think it's spooky looking the way the woods are so dark and she's so starkly white - very cool. Can't really say the same for the parts when Heather zooms in on a bag of marshmallows or Mike's hairy chest, but what are you gonna do.

I know that "less is more" in a horror film, but The Blair Witch Project relies too heavily on the "less" for my taste. It was unclear who or what the villain was. I understand that it is probably this very idea of the unknown that has other people scared by the Blair Witch, but it was too much of the uknown for me. Had I been given a more detailed picture of the Blair Witch and what she represented and/or was capable of, maybe the film would have had more of an effect on me. I do, however, appreciate The Blair Witch Project a lot more now for the phenomena it started and all the amazing movies that came out of it. Kudos for sure.