Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie Review: Pieces (1982)

Ha ha! You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!

Pieces is not a film that I've heard that much about, but apparently it's kind of a big deal. In terms of pretty much ANYONE'S standards for technical achievement, this is a really bad movie in almost every aspect. But we horror fans are well-known for overlooking that sort of thing and appreciating a movie for what it does and what it is. I realized about 2 minutes into this flick that I was going to be doing just that.

This is the part where I tell you the plot: In 1942, a young boy brutally hacked up his mother with an ax after she chastised him for doing a puzzle with a nekkid lady on it. Cut to the present - well, 1982 - and some freako with a chainsaw is cutting up girls on a Boston college campus, only taking certain pieces (ha ha, get it? Pieces?) with him. A sweater-wearing nerd named Kendall, who also happens to somehow get hot blondes to proposition him for sex in the pool, gets involved in the investigation with Sergeant Dumb and Lieutenant Dumber. There's also a tennis player girl named Mary Riggs who's also a cop that goes "undercover" at the school to help catch the killer. This black glove wearing killer still has his favorite puzzle from childhood and is using its image to assemble a real lady puzzle. Why? Who cares.

Like I said, this movie is really bad. If I actually took the time to come up with a ratings system, Pieces would get something shitty like a 2 out of 5 or a 4 out of 10. But then I also kinda liked it. The casual movie-watcher who sees this film would probably dismiss it right away. Ah, but not weirdos like we horror fans. Bad dialogue, bad scripting, bad acting, and lots of tits and blood means that Pieces is not a bad movie - it is a CULT CLASSIC. It's "so bad it's good." It is cheese-tastic sleaze at its bloody best, and gosh darn it, we can love a movie like this AND think it's shit at the same time.

But exactly which crappy part of Pieces makes it crap (but good crap)?

I fear I would only permanently damage my brain by thinking too hard about all the things that don't make sense in this movie. Like, I'm not even going to ask for an explanation for the random appearance of an Asian dude throwing kung-fu kicks and punches at Mary when she's out "investigating" one night. There's just no point in trying to figure out where in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks that came from or what it has to do with the rest of the movie. Just watch it and laugh. That's what it's there for.

In the same fashion, at the beginning of the film we have a scene of the killer opening up his box of mementos from his murder of his mother. This is interspersed with another out of place action scene of a girl skateboarding down the sidewalk and running into a large mirror being carried by delivery men. I don't get it, and I don't want to.

The gore effects are actually not all that bad in Pieces, aside from the opening scene. In that instance, the ax the boy uses on his mother's head very obviously bounces off of her instead of actually sinking into her skull like it should, but it's all good later on. The part where the boy continues to do his puzzle whilst covered head to toe in blood makes up for that little bit. All the other kills are quite fun and wonderfully bloody. It's hard to pick a favorite. From the girl getting pulled out of the swimming pool by that bug and leaf scooper thing, to the waterbed attack where the killer shoves a knife into the back of the girl's skull and it comes out her mouth, to probably the best one where a topless girl is split in half in the bathroom, there is plenty of gore goodness for any horror fan to enjoy.

I always hate movies that portray police officers as morons but this was just ridiculous. Tennis pro/cop Mary never once says or does anything to make us believe that she is a cop. In fact, she doesn't even make us believe that she's a tennis pro, either, because in the one scene where's she's playing tennis, she kind of sucks. Lieutenant Dumber actually asks Kendall to keep an eye on Mary while on campus, and basically deputizes him when he should be one of their main suspects. I also love how they storm the dean's apartment when they know he's the killer. They bring no backup and Lieutenant Dumber shoots the lock on the door three, count 'em, THREE times to quietly announce that they've come to arrest him. Then when they find drugged Mary on the couch, they both leave Kendall alone with her to call the ambulance without even searching for the dean in the apartment. He's hiding behind the curtain, eejits.

I've never cared about giving away the ending to a film and I don't see why I should start now. After the killer dean is himself killed by police, Sergeant Dumb casually leans against a bookshelf revealing a freaky revolving door. Hanging up there is the real lady puzzle that the dean has been building from his pieces of girls and we get a great slo-mo shot of her falling on top of poor Kendall! Oh, but that isn't the end. After a random establishing shot, we're back in the apartment and as Kendall is walking out past the real lady puzzle corpse, she suddenly reaches up and grabs his crotch, managing to rip through his jeans with only her fingers and pull his balls off. Whuhhhhhh? Ah, we're back to the brain-hurting thing again. Best to just leave it alone like the rest of this movie and skip the wine for the cheese. The cheese is the best part.

Greatest line from Pieces: "Bastard! BASTARD! BASTARD!!!!!" Oh, this amazing dialogue was ingeniously delivered. Where is that girl's Oscar nod???

Monday, November 22, 2010

Catching Up On The Classics: The Monster Squad (1987)

GUYS. Why don't you tell me about these things sooner??? The Monster Squad is like my new favorite thing. It was flipping fantastic. In fact, I liked it so much that after only seeing it once, I bought it when I found it at my local video store for only $7.99. Killer.

Monsterific plot: Count Dracula is on the hunt for a mystical amulet that will throw off the balance between good and evil and let evil win. He enlists the help of several classic friends including Frankenstein's monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the monster from Creature from the Black Lagoon that I did not know was called Gill-Man. The amulet is hidden in a tiny American town that also happens to be the home of a group of kids called the Monster Squad, and their love and knowledge of these classic creatures will help save humanity from evil!

Movies with groups of young kids as the main stars are always hella fun - I believe someone described The Monster Squad to me as "The Goonies but with monsters." The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Sandlot... Even when you're way past the kid stage, these movies will always retain their charm and lovability. They keep it simple and sweet with the story, always have fantastic child actors throwing out hilarious one-liners, and continue to teach us that we should never lose our childhood imagination and quest for adventure.

The group of kids is amazing - although admittedly a tad reminiscent of every other child character from every other kid movie like this. They make funny wisecracks with 80's words like "bogus" and it's all cute and stuff when they cuss and say stuff like "If we get through this, I'm gonna shit!" This movie is the almost-perfect combination of comedy and horror. The comedy is spot-on most of the time, and while the horror is faithful to the legends, the film overall is geared toward a younger audience which basically makes it mostly a comedy film. But I don't care. Dracula and Frankenstein's monster are in it; I can talk about it on my horror blog. Making this same movie today without the comedy element, however, would just be a disaster. Making it more directed at horror would mean it completely loses everything that makes it special. I don't think it ever gets "too scary" for kids and it's funny enough that adults (like me) seeing it for the first time absolutely fall in love with it. So the movie works. It works REALLY well.

One part of the film that I was attracted to was the fact that Sean's parents seem totally supportive of his monster movie love - Mom buys him the Van Helsing diary and Dad enjoys watching the movies with Sean. Nobody makes fun of him or asks him why he likes the movies, they just go with it and make an effort to know about the thing he loves. Why can't my parents and friends be more like the people in this movie? While I think they've accepted my obsession, they constantly make comments about "that weird shit" that I watch whenever I try to talk about a new movie I saw or something. It's wearing a little thin.

(Sidenote: As I was watching this, one of my first thoughts was why Count Dracula was recruiting all these other movie monsters in the first place, and more so, just what his connection to all of them was. Then I remembered that I have not seen ANY of those Son of Frankenstein, Bride of Dracula, Mummy vs. Wolfman or whatever movies from that era of filmmaking. I don't know that I will, either. That seems like one genre that I'm really not that interested in. Sorry!)

In that regard, the movie ended much different than I thought it would. After witnessing the mayhem caused by the monsters, the grownups actually suspend their disbelief and get involved in the fight against Dracula, instead of the kids having to do everything for themselves. I expected Scary German Guy to be in on it, but not for the climax to take place in full view of so many adults. With these kinds of movies, there's usually an absence of adults until after everything is resolved, so this movie broke the mold in that aspect.

I love, love, love the guy playing Count Dracula. He is so perfect in that role and embodies it in the way that we always think about the infamous Count. Frankenstein's monster was scary at first, especially when I saw that scene where he comes up on Sean's little sister playing by the water - I don't need to tell you all what I thought was going to happen at first! But I love how the filmmakers flipped that on its head with the next scene and had Frankie become the kids' ally. Wolfman is a little weird looking without the protruding snout, and Gill-Man and the Mummy actually don't really get that much screen time. I guess they're the low ones on the monster totem. The little girl playing Phoebe is absolutely cute as a button, especially when she's telling the boys not to be chicken shit. Seriously, can I adopt her?

This movie also slightly pushes the boundaries in some areas. I wasn't actually expecting anyone to die and was surprised when Dracula blows up Sean's father's partner (who was also very funny) in the police cruiser. I was also a little taken aback at one scene with Scary German Guy. After his discussion with the kids about Van Helsing's diary, one of the kids says to him that he must know a lot about monsters. He says that he supposes he does, and as he's closing the door, we see the numbered tattoo that Nazis gave concentration camp prisoners in World War II. Out of place for a horror-comedy directed at kids or just an apropos plot point for his character? Not sure, but it freaked me out for a second there.

The movie's pacing is quick (almost too quick at only 80 minutes long) and fun with something unexpected and hilarious around every corner. From the kid trying to ask his sister whether or not she's a virgin to "Wolfman's got nards," I couldn't get over how much I enjoyed this movie and everything it had to offer. It's from the 80's and it shows but that's probably why I loved it so much. I'm still catching up on all those great little kid movies that came out between the years I was -5 and 5 years old. Two mega-thumbs up on The Monster Squad. I think this is one my little nephew needs to see, too - I already got him into the Ghostbusters. :)

Catchy taglines aside, The Monster Squad is a cute, uproarious good time for people of all ages.

Also: Sean's "Stephen King Rules" t-shirt is so bitchin'. And now that I'm seeing reproductions of it for sale on the Internet, I want it REALLY BAD. If you all can't think of a Christmas present for me, I've given you a huge clue right there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Movie Review: Frozen (2010)

So I saw a couple of weeks ago that a ton of people reviewed Frozen and gave it fair comments. Figured I should check it out for meself. And me liked it.

Three friends - Parker (Emma Bell), Lynch (Shawn Ashmore), and Dan (Kevin Zegers) - are on a skiing trip together in New England. Wanting to go out for one last run after night falls, they convince the chairlift operator to let them up even as they are closing. But the lift shuts down before the friends get off and they are left stranded in the chair 50 feet above ground. The resort will be deserted for the next five days. How will they survive?

Surprisingly, I didn't have much doubt that this film would be good. Impressive work by writer and director Adam Green with his previous film Hatchet (and Grace sort of because he was producer) plus the wildness of the plot was enough to convince me that Frozen could be one hell of an interesting ride. And I think I was right.

I was skeptical about the plot. Trapped in a ski lift? Big whoop, right? But then you gotta think about the freezing temps; the elevation of the mountain and your elevation above the ground which makes jumping a danger; and the fact that the cables on these lifts are razor sharp, making it not as easy to just shimmy across to the nearest pole and climb down. Plus Green adds in a pack of bloodthirsty wolves on the ground to add to the kids' dire situation. So in that sense, he covered his bases well in making us believe that there weren't that many options for these three to get away as easily as one would think.

Two essential things I think are necessary for a film with a relatively thin plot such as this is characters and pacing, and Green hits the mark with both of these. The characters at first seem like rather typical college friends, but I think they all have a great relationship and nobody is a stereotype. The pacing is also well done, with hardly any lulls in action.

One thing that impressed me the most was the dialogue, and is what helped me like the characters. I think I was expecting a lot of whining and the kids cursing at each other blah blah blah, but there was mostly none of that. They lose their cool a few times with each other, especially Parker and Lynch, and even though they don't seem that close (as Dan's best friend and the girlfriend who seems to have stolen him away from Lynch) they manage to help each other out through the situation. There's a lot of talking about mundane things to supposedly keep their minds off what they have gotten themselves into, but what they're really saying is just how important these mundane things really are, and how you realize that when you are so close to death. I don't know about the top three breakfast cereals being that important (Raisin Bran, Honey Nut Chex, Lucky Charms) or having a dog named Steve, but Lynch getting them to talk about these things made the characters more endearing and lovable and you don't want to see anything bad happen to them. Or at least I didn't. And there was a great moment when Dan was being attacked by the wolves and he's screaming at Lynch not to let Parker look. Heartbreaking!

There was a small willy moment when Parker wakes up and her bare hand is grasping the metal safety bar. Oh shit! At first I had a funny flashback to A Christmas Story, but then realized that this was probably not so funny. So then we get a really gross shot of her pulling the skin off her hand to free herself. Ouch.

I hate to be a bitch and blame the victim or whatever, but Dan should have thought a little more carefully about that jump before going all Evel Knievel. I know it was a pressure situation and all, but it doesn't take a genius to know that jumping feet first straight down was about the dumbest thing ever to do. Should have tried curling himself into a ball or something on the way down. Then your freaking bones wouldn't be sticking out of your legs, dumbass.

Another dumb thing they do is when Lynch finally makes it across the cables to the pole, the wolves have returned and he still jumps down anyway, with only a ski pole to defend himself with! He might have tried waiting until the wolves were, oh I don't know, GONE maybe? Yeah? Even after all that talk about how wolves typically avoid people, these seem to be aggressive little buggers and end up killing both Dan and Lynch (sorry for the spoiler). Thankfully, though, when little Parker goes sliding down the hill and comes face to face with about five of them, they just leave her alone and by this point, the audience really needed something good to happen to these people.

Oh, by the way - hey you, Kane Hodder!

Yeah, you better believe I know it's you! Good to see you.

The Netflix description calls Frozen a "taut thriller" and I think that's the best way to describe it. It's an interesting turn from other horror films or thrillers out there and a nice film to launch the new A Bigger Boat production company (love the name). And it's great that Green chose to do something like this after the bloodbath that was Hatchet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Always happy to support indie filmmakers

I was contacted by an independent filmmaker named Matt Compton about a vampire movie he produced called "Midnight Son." As the title says, I'm always out to support people trying to make a mark in a very tough business so give the trailer for this movie a look. Seems like an interesting new vampire story and the direction and lighting look pretty professional. Hope things turn out well for the team behind this.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sequels That Don't Suck: White Noise 2: The Light (2007)

I know I've seen White Noise before, I know I have. Do I remember it? Not really. I'm pretty sure I didn't like it, though, much like most other reviewers that I see now. I'm a little in love with Nathan Fillion from Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (okay, I'm a LOT in love with him), which is the only reason I watched White Noise 2: The Light.

And it was pretty darn good!

Nathan Fillion is Abraham Dale whose wife and young son were shot and killed in cold blood while at a diner one day. After their deaths, Abe tries committing suicide and is revived at the hospital, but not before coming that close to death - experiencing the fabled "white light." As a result of his near-death experience, Abe develops the ability to see how soon people will die and that he can help stop it. He soon realizes that his power and the actions he takes has serious consequences.

Katee Sackhoff and her ginormous smile play Sherry, a nurse whom Abe becomes close to. She is a genuinely kind and sweet person and has also lost somebody she loved. Abe saves her one night from being attacked in a parking garage and thinks she is simply another notch on his mirror of the people he has "saved." When the other people he's saved become murderously violent, he starts to wonder if he should have helped any of them, including Sherry, and whether he might have to kill them himself.

In the scene where Abe has his near-death experience, the effects come dangerously close to being incredibly hokey and stupid. Abe is sort of floating through a lightning-fill wormhole in space toward the angelic visions of his wife and son, but the shocks of the defibrillator paddles suck him back to his body. I was skeptical at first while watching this scene, but it's not all that bad. Perhaps a little over-the-top and too on the nose of what a near-death experience is supposed to be like, with some low-grade special effects.

The other effects of the "ghosts" Abe sees are well done, and pretty much what you would expect them to look like, but there's nothing all that special going on. Ghostly figures popping up in Abe's house, all jumpy and scary looking. There are no truly frightening moments despite the supernatural element. I love ghosts and they usually creep me the eff out - not so much here.

Aside from not having anybody from the first film in this sequel, White Noise 2 is a more logical extension from the original than most other sequels out there. It keeps the same basic concept but takes it somewhere new and interesting. In White Noise, they could only hear the EVP through a TV with a detuned receiver (right? Like I said, I don't remember the movie all that well). Abe's near-death experience (NDE) supposedly makes him become a living detuned receiver, where he gets visions and hears noises from the beyond through various electrical equipment.

They add a semi-religious element to the new story with the whole concept of "The Third Day." The people that Abe saves end up going nutso the third day after their brush with death - three days after death Jesus rose from the grave, and this is the inversion of that; as they say in the film, what the Devil does on the third day. I guess that means he goes into a weird trance and kills a bunch of people around him. Like most things in this movie, I'm letting weird stuff like that slide.

The movie is pretty formulaic and predictable, but I think the great actors helped in making this a much more enjoyable experience than it probably should be. Nathan Fillion has played the bad guy and the rebel with a heart of gold. Here he plays the everyman, faced with a situation he doesn't quite understand but feels compelled to do the right thing anyway. Basically he's a rip-off of Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone. But whatever. I love Nathan. Hunky Craig Fairbrass is Henry Craine, the man who killed Abe's wife and son. Turns out though that he has the same power that Abe does and the murder of Abe's family had something to do with it. Fairbrass has a wonderful chiseled face and ominous presence, perfect at playing a man we're supposed to think of initially as being evil, but in the end really isn't. Katee Sackhoff as Nurse Sherry and Abe's supposed new love interest is wonderfully charming and loving. Just look at her picture. Isn't she the cutest thing you ever did see?

At one point in the film, Abe's friend refers to his new "power" as some sort of "superhero, Captain Tightpants shit." This was a wonderful little nod to Fillion's role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly and an episode where Kaylee says to him (as they are dressed very uncomfortably in formal clothes) "Yes sir, Captain Tightpants." You had to be there. Firefly was an incredible show that ended WAY too soon. It's not often that there's a little something dropped into a movie for the fans of another show that the main actor is in, and I laughed my butt off at this.

White Noise 2 is not the greatest movie or sequel ever, but it was certainly successful in what it intended to do and the acting and pacing of the story have made it one of my favorite little movies to pick up and watch every once in a while. The ending is fairly hokey and melodramatic but it works well for the story that has been presented before it.

Maybe the title of this post should be more like Sequels That Don't Suck, Or At Least Don't Suck As Much As The Original.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Movie Review: Saw 3D (2010)

Warning: Spoilers All Around

I've come to accept the Saw series for what it is. Mostly I have been a huge fan of all the movies, despite a few of them (SAW IV SAW IV SAW IV SAW IV SAW IV SAW IV) faltering in story and plot, and the timeline of the whole series being completely out of whack. The actual experience of watching each film unfold, however, has always been an orgasmic pleasure. OR-GAS-MIC. I love squirming in my seat at some of the more visceral traps, I love picking my jaw up off the floor at all the "twist" endings. I love that you can only truly understand and appreciate all the films if you are a real fan of the series - casual fans will be completely lost. I love that the filmmakers seemingly made the Saw franchise for the fans - positive that they would always come back for more.

I made it a point not to look up anything about Saw VII. I've done that for II through VI because I like to be surprised at who shows up and who doesn't, even if it's just in a flashback. Had no idea that Cary Elwes was coming back as Dr. Gordon and was instantly intrigued when they flashbacked to the first Saw at the beginning and showed him crawling down the hall and cauterizing his sawed-off foot on a gas pipe. EW. So they showed him possibly surviving and then went on with the story. Hmm, how is this coming up later?

It's a good thing I was the only one in the theater for this viewing, because I completely flipped my shit at about four different parts in the movie. One thing that I was utterly and completely adamant about NOT wanting to see in this "final chapter" (yeah, we'll see) was the death of Jill Tuck. That was Flip My Shit #1 - the (prophetic) dream Jill had about Hoffman killing her. But it was just a dream. Phew. I've always liked her character in a possibly deep-seated lesbian way, but more so because she seemed so strong and understanding and loyal to Jigsaw.

Flip My Shit #2 was Dr. Gordon's appearance at the Jigsaw Survivor Group. I was strangely elated and pissed off at the same time. Excited 'cause, yeah, I'm a fan and it was bitchin' to finally find out for sure whether he was dead or alive. BUT. Soon-to-be-answered questions and expletives were running through my mind at his being in the movie.  Where the fuck has he been this whole time??? I'm gonna love hearing this explanation, jerkweeds.

The biggest Flip My Shit, #3, was when Jill Tuck was actually killed. MOTHERFUCKER. Why? WHY WHY WHY? Ooooh, how homage-y that Hoffman put her in Amanda's jawtrap (taken from the police evidence room). But goshdarnit, it wasn't supposed to go down like that. Jill was supposed to kill Hoffman, and though I love that he sort of got what was coming to him in the end, I don't know that it was really right to have Dr. Gordon being his punisher. And it was even more homage-y that they again went all the way back to the first film by having Dr. Gordon chain Hoffman in the bathroom. A little too open-ended, though. Eric Matthews made it out of that chain without a hacksaw - who's to say that Hoffman won't be able to escape either? He got out of Jill's updated jawtrap.

Flip My Shit #4. Dr. Gordon was yet another one of Jigsaw's helpers/apprentices. I had resigned myself to believing that he was deader than dogshit, but nope, there he is. Okay, okay, it kinda made sense that he helped because of all the inserting keys and shit into random body parts and only a skilled surgeon could do that. I'll buy that. What I don't completely buy is why he would agree to help Jigsaw, or why if he was alive and out and about this whole time, that no one ever mentioned him in any of the previous films - ESPECIALLY to think of him as a possible suspect, seeing as how Jigsaw's other previous victim Amanda turned out to be an apprentice as well. Or maybe he was in hiding the whole time and only talked to Jigsaw, I don't know.

Way too many new characters were introduced for a film that it is supposed to end the series. The main game being played is with Bobby Dagen (played Sean Patrick Flanery, one of the loves of my life), but he and all the people in his game and all the people in the car trap and those losers in the opening trap don't mean crap to me or to anyone else in the entire franchise and don't add anything to the overall story arc of Jigsaw. So why should I give a shit about them? In the aforementioned Jigsaw Survivor Group, I was expecting to see a lot of old faces. Okay, I see arm-chopping-off lady from Saw VI and that older lady that was saved, also from Saw VI, but who the frack are all these other people? Maybe there was conflict or whatever, but it would have been nice to see Daniel Matthews, or even Britt from Saw V if she actually survived slicing her arm in half.

"Eye-popping, heart-pounding 3D" my ass. The 3D was completely useless for this film. Maybe 2 split-seconds of blood or a hacksaw flying at me. EPIC FAIL.

The traps in Saw 3D/VII were insane. Like, totally elaborate and crazy, and yes, a little unbelievable. The opening throw-away trap (because the opening trap is usually never mentioned again so we don't care) was kinda cool because they were put out in the open where hundreds of people could watch whoever gets killed by the trap. The other games are alright, nothing really stand out until the end. The skin glued to the car seat, pulling a fish hook out of the stomach, and having to pull out your own teeth were pretty gruesome and squirm-inducing. At the end, when Bobby has failed to save his wife, this floor that she's been attached to sinks down, and whoosh! a huge contraption closes over her and flames shoot up. What the hell? She's in some oven or something, not being burned alive by the flames but more like having her skin melt from the extreme heat. Brutal.

I want, just for curiosity's sake, an in-depth and detailed chronology of every single GD thing that happened in every movie. It would really be amusing to see if anybody could figure out (or try to make up) the whens, hows, and whos of this clusterfuck of a movie franchise plot. How long and who did the stalking of all of these victims? Who designed and tested all those fucking traps? That alone should have taken weeks. How did he/she/they get all the equipment for the traps? Seriously, what order did all this happen in? I know it's not really vital to enjoying the movies or anything and it's a little nitpicky, but I can't help thinking this same thing through all the movies since about Saw III. The only concept of time we get from any film is how long each victim has to complete their trap. In between that, months could have gone by, and we wouldn't have a fucking clue. I just don't like my sense of time being screwed with like that.

Also: Just what the hell is the official title of this movie? I guess it's just supposed to be Saw 3D but my literary OCD has a problem with it not following the numerical titles of the other films. My theater listings called it Saw 3D: The Final Chapter. I call for showtimes and they call it Saw VII. SOMEBODY PICK A FUCKING TITLE. I'm calling it just plain old Saw VII, that way no one will be  confused and my OCD will remain in check.