Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: "Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead" by Scott Kenemore

Thanks to the kind propietor of Dollar Bin Horror, I was finally able to read the hot new zombie novel I'd been hearing about - Zombie, Ohio by first time novelist Scott Kenemore. Mr. Kenemore himself also contacted me last week wanting to send me a copy to review, but I was already on page 20. Weird, huh? Anyway, I finished the last few dozen pages in a marathon session last night and all I can say is that it was too short and I want more!

So this zombie tale does things a little different in that the main character, Peter Mellor, is a zombie. He became a zombie very shortly after he died so he is still able to think and talk like a human... but he does still have that pesky compulsion to eat human brains. His mission is to become reunited with the woman he loved, and later when he finds out that he may have been murdered, to find the murderer while still trying to get his friends and loved ones to safety.

Zombie, Ohio is hilarious. Kenemore's writing is so natural and real. These people talk like my friends and I talk and Peter thinks like I think. He finds humor in all these crazy zombie situations but still takes his new life seriously. He struggles with being part human and part zombie and all of the desires that come from living both of these lives.

As Peter roams through Ohio, he witnesses the devastation and desperation that has taken over the sparsely populated area. There's your typical gangs of bad guys that just want to rape and pillage. This is something I've always thought was cliched about apocalyptic stories and movies, but to be honest, it's more than likely what would happen. No law, no order. Repressed people can finally do the things they want. I've just always been put off by the cliche groups of evil men because, seriously, what's the point? If most of the world has been wiped out by a zombie plague or killer virus, why in the holy hell would people go after the few survivors left? They would only succeed in furthering wiping out the human race until there's no one left and that is just majorly retarded.

As a zombie, Peter at first decides that these will be the only people he will eat, especially after witnessing a man trying to kidnap a young girl. So, yea! He's going to be a good zombie.

But then in an unexpected turn of events, Peter changes his mind. The woman in his life, Vanessa, is supposedly kidnapped or murdered and Peter suddenly decides he has given up on the human race and rejoices in his zombie prowess. Humans weak... zombies awesome. So after gathering up a zombie horde, Peter starts stalking and attacking innocent groups of people and feasting on their brains.

This section of the book was honestly very hard for me to go along with. This guy is supposed to be our hero, the guy we follow for the whole book. And yes, he's a zombie and he's angry, but he's also still sort of a human. I didn't like him coaxing his way into a den with two young girls and then viciously murdering them, eating their brains, and giving the rest of them to his zombie friends to eat. He does one of the most evil things in the world by murdering innocents and seems to blame his actions on the inability of humans to cope with the zombie situation. Humans may be weak but they still have the will to survive and thrive even when all seems hopeless and lost - even when zombies take over the world. And even by the end, I really couldn't forgive Peter for what he did while still knowing that it was wrong and immoral.

That's not to say I didn't love the book. Kenemore's storytelling is quick and succinct and a pleasure to read all the way through. I love the way he thought through the physical aspects of Peter being a zombie, the way it affects his body. His voice is raspy and his eyeballs have no moisture. He doesn't feel pain and is quicker than other zombies but after a while slows down. The story he has designed around Peter's character is kind of a murder mystery, with Peter himself being a mystery to the reader and to himself because his zombie status has caused memory loss.

Fantastically fun and surprisingly uplifting book. I got lots of looks from people at work because I laughed out loud so many times while reading Zombie, Ohio. I haven't been much for reading zombie books in the past - loooooove watching zombie movies, though - but this one has piqued my interest again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Review: House of Wax (2005)

I know I should hate House of Wax. It should be one of those forgettable, ridiculous teen slasher remakes that everyone says "Ugh" about before they even see it. But it's a guilty pleasure, and I like it. And not just because Paris Hilton dies a wonderful death - which is awesome - but because there are actually some good moments in the movie and of course it has a stellar climax. I still watch it every now and again to get my waxy fix.

House of Plot: Six friends on a road trip to a football game camp overnight in the middle of nowhere (always a good idea). When they wake up, one of their cars has a busted fan belt so they head to the nearby town of Ambrose which bodes the famous House of Wax. But the house, and the town, is not what it seems and the friends are soon hunted by its deranged sculptor.

Upon watching this film again, I see that it is extremely slow. It takes almost an hour before things get good with seeing people made into wax sculptures. The problem seems to be that they split up the characters too much. Carly and Wade head to Ambrose while the others try to get to the football game, but when that turns out to be a bust, they head back to the camp. Then when Wade and Carly have not returned yet, Dalton and Nick go to look for them while Paige and Blake stay at the camp. There's like three separate storylines going on at one time and each one takes a loooong time to get to their conclusion, which is when they die. Hopefully you caught on to the twin thing early on and so you should know that Nick and Carly will probably survive, leaving the others pretty much disposable.

Here's a strange thing: I really didn't mind Paris Hilton's acting. I KNOW, right? She actually did a good job, and sure, she had that cheesy strip scene but other than that I can't really say anything bad about her skills. Plus she gets extra points for having that great death scene. Yes, it was awesome because maybe some people out there wouldn't mind to really see a pipe go through her forehead but it was nicely done. As for the rest of the cast... eh, not bad. Elisha Cuthbert is thankfully not as annoying as Kim Bauer on 24, and I could have done without the stereotypical bad boy thing that Chad Michael Murray does. The villain Bo is delightfully charming and handsome, so actually almost EVERYONE is a cliche and a stereotype in this film. That happens a lot. I'm used to it and I don't feel the need to come down on movies for it anymore. It's pointless.

The rest of the violence is better than you would expect it to be. The deaths are fairly quick but bloody enough for horror fans to perk up for a few minutes in this otherwise long-winded movie. Aside from Paige's pipe-through-head death, there's Dalton getting his head, well, pulled off and Blake getting a knife to the throat. I do like the scene where Carly gets her finger cut off, though, that was a surprise. The final girl does not usually get such a vicious permanent injury like that so it was a good shock moment.

The wax stuff was interesting to see. Vincent has his typical Lair of Doom in the basement of the House of Wax where he has all his machines and contraptions to make sculptures. It was cool to see with Wade's demise just how it is done, what with getting the people in the right position and all and covering them with the wax. I think I read one review which said something along the lines of how this movie shows that encasing somebody in wax is not nearly as disgusting as watching somebody try to un-encase them in wax. So true. If your friend or boyfriend has been made into a wax statue, do not poke him in the cheek and then try to rip his skin off. It won't work.

Even if most people hate this movie, I think they can still agree that the climax is cool to watch when the whole House of Wax melts down with Nick and Carly still fighting the twins. All that imagery of Vincent's knife slicing through the sculpture of the conjoined twins and then Vincent's dead body falling onto Bo's in the same way that they were once conjoined was kind of ridiculous, but who cares. There's melting wax everywhere. That's cool. One question though. Wouldn't that shit be really HOT for Nick and Carly to go wading around in?

At the end, the filmmakers try to give us another big "twist," probably because the other twists weren't that exciting to begin with. Oooh, the whole TOWN is wax... Vincent wasn't the evil twin, Bo was!.... blah blah blah. So anyway, they reveal that there was another brother in the Wax Family then show the grubby roadkill-eater dude. So he's the third brother. So what? What does that change about anything we've seen before? He doesn't look like he's going to become the next human wax sculptor any time soon so thank Goodness we don't have to worry about a sequel.

It's slow, it's boring at times, but House of Wax is at times a nice change of pace from other slasher flicks that don't have a big house made out of wax. And Paris Hilton dying. It's not my favorite movie or anything, but it's really not as bad as it should have been.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Burning (1981)

A camp full of horny teenagers being stalked by an unknown murderer. Why does that sound familiar??? Because it's 1981's The Burning, one of the first films done by the original house of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Miramax Films.

FIRE, FIRE, FIRE! [Beavis voice]: Some kids at a summer camp play a prank on the mean old caretaker, Cropsy, which goes wrong and ends up horribly burning him. He leaves the hospital five years later and decides to go back and get revenge - starting a bloody murder spree on a new crop of kids trying to enjoy their summer.

This is another "dead teenager movie" that should have been lost and forgotten for being so similar to other popular movies from that time, but there are a few things about The Burning that make it take one step out from the crowd.

For starters, there is a pretty good cast. Only a few recognizable faces including Jason Alexander (and apparently Holly Hunter - but was I asleep or something because I  never spotted her) but the other no-names are very good in their roles. Highlights are the head counselors Michelle and Todd; tough guy asshole Eddie; and even the camp bully Glazer, who turns out to be kind of a nice guy in the end. The side characters are your typical 80s teens wearing coochie-cutter shorts (that girl at the beginning in the yellow tank top really should have been wearing a bra) but their acting is surprisingly natural and realistic. There's even a fat chick, which is like, unheard of.

Can I just say something about the prank the boys pull on Cropsy? Okay, so what they do is sneak into his cabin one night and place a rotting human skull, with little candles in the eye sockets, on the table by his bed. He knocks it over which sets his sheets - and himself - on fire. Two questions. First, what the hell kind of prank is that?! A prank is when you freeze somebody's underwear or put honey on their door handles. These kids are messed up to think of something like that.

The second, and probably most important, question is: Where the fuck did they get a rotting human skull? I guess it could have been fake, but it looked pretty darn real to me which is more than a little suspect.

Most of the kills are quite well done, albeit uninventive and a little boring. Cropsy's murder implement of choice is his trusty garden shears and he never uses anything else, save for the hooker he killed at the beginning. That was done with a big pair of scissors, which are very much like shears - clever! People get fingers cut off, get their throat slashed, and get stabbed in the neck with this vicious instrument, all brought to wonderful life by that master of gore work, Tom Savini. I heard the gore was cut down a bit for the film, and I'm not sure if Netflix gave me the uncut version or not. Either way, the kills were nicely realistic and the blood was pretty much the most perfect color I've ever seen.

The most famous scene in the movie is the when Cropsy attacks the group of kids on the raft they built, trying to get back to camp after their canoes go missing. They spot one of these canoes floating in the middle of the lake and when they get closer, Cropsy leaps up shears in hand and massacres all of the kids in minutes. This is a great scene because it breaks some steadfast rules of slashers. Up until now in this film, Cropsy went after the kids one by one while they were alone but this attack was in broad daylight with five or six kids getting killed at the same time. It comes so unexpected and is such a blitz and violent attack that it really makes this movie so much different than other slasher films.

The editing and other shot choices in The Burning are sometimes... interesting. The POV-killer-vision or whatever is annoyingly familiar with the slow moving camera through the trees, blurry, spying on the kids. Nothing special. A few times in the movie, usually after a kill, the filmmakers do a very unusual thing. They use a fade to red transition between scenes, a pretty ballsy move because it can look very cheesy. But this is an 80s slasher movie so cheese is par for the course. It's only used twice so it never becomes overly ridiculous.

Overall, The Burning is an impressive genre film that does things just a little bit differently enough to get it noticed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Movie Review: Run! Bitch Run! (2009)

An intriguing title, no? Run! Bitch Run! is a somewhat strange but at the same time somewhat delightful throwback to 70s exploitation cinema, more specifically the rape-revenge subgenre. In fact, upon watching the first few minutes of the movie, I was pretty much convinced that it was from the 70s despite knowing it's 2009 release date. The music, the skeazy acting, even most of the shot compositions are very reminiscent of films from that era which is one thing at which this movie succeeds.

Bow-chicka-wow-wow plot: Two schoolgirls are selling Bibles in a crappy town called Moseley when they happen upon a drug dealer's house. They witness the murder of one of the dealer's whores, and the dealer and two others decide to have their fun with the girls before disposing of them. One survives and soon heads back to Moseley to get revenge on all of them.

This movie is sleazy. Sleaze galore. It looks like they took a big ole can of EZ-Sleaze and with gusto spread it all over this cracker of a plot. There is a sex scene pretty much every five or so minutes and almost all of the females to appear in the film at one point show their tits. I guess that's par for the course in a movie like this and more than adds to the exploitative nature. The only place the film really lacks is actually in the violence which is not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. 

So there's some characters to get straight here. The movie starts off in the crack den where we have the dealer, Lobo, and two of his whores, Marla - a coke fiend lesbian - and Carla. Then there's Clint who is the slow, stuttering lackey to Lobo. He likes watching this nun-lesbian porno movie. Cut to the girls. They are young, pretty Catholic school girls. Catherine is the steadfast rule follower and virgin, Rebecca is the one with the bad side who wants to have fun. 

The girls show up to the drug dealer's house to sell some religious junk, see Carla get shot in the head by Lobo for stealing his cocaine, and are then apprehended by the deadbeats for some torture and rape. After a wicked uncomfortable forced lesbianism scene between Carla and Rebecca, Rebecca is shot while playing Russian roulette. Catherine is taken into the woods for some unexplained reason by Lobo, Clint, and Carla where she is told to literally, "Run! Bitch, run!" before Lobo catches up to her and rapes her. Clint, the idiot, is then told to kill her, which he doesn't of course because he's an idiot. Catherine gets taken to a hospital where she dons a nurse's uniform before getting all pumped up for her revenge. 

Have you noticed the similarities to other famous exploitation movies yet? The Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave... references and almost blatant theft is rampant in Run! Bitch Run!, but at the same time, it still manages to keep its own kind of sleaze and revel in it, which is most enjoyable to watch. Clint is the same character as Matthew from I Spit on Your Grave, acting the same way and told to do the exact same thing and failing at it. The other references are easy to spot, as well.

The revenge scenes are relatively tame until you get to the final murder of Lobo. Catherine barges in after killing Marla on Lobo having sex with presumably another one of bimbos or whores. Catherine's got a machete and she just shoves it right up Lobo's ass. No joke. A machete up the butt. Several times. She basically anally rapes him with a MACHETE. That's hardcore, and a nicely satisfying way for this piece of crap drug dealer and rapist to die.

There are also some oddly thrown in scenes involving Carla and her girlfriend and an way too drawn scene where Clint goes to a skeazy (more skeaze!) and gets bitched at by both the stripper and the bar owner. But these scenes don't detract too much from overall story, just add more sex and boobs and unnecessary violence. 

The ending is a bit of a downer. Not gonna lie, I didn't expect that and I was quite shocked. It's much different than the usual "girls rule" ending that other films like this have but I think it's a nice turn. Makes you think about what you've just seen in a different way.

If trash and sleaze is your thing, Run! Bitch Run! doesn't disappoint. Watch it for the fun of watching it, and also watch people look at you with surprise and a bit of interest when you tell them you just watched a movie called Run! Bitch Run!.

Sidenote: The grammar bitch in me must comment on the punctuation of the title. What exactly is a "bitch run"? Because that's what the title is implying. If they were going for an imperative verb, it should have read more like "Run, Bitch, Run!" or "Run! Bitch, Run!". Without the comma, it just bothers me. I know I'm dorking out, but I can't help it. Sorry!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Where Are All The Ghosts?

I love ghosts. I've said it a couple hundred times here before, but just so you really get the message: I LOVE GHOST MOVIES. The supernatural and the possibility that weird ghost-y things could happen to me - if I moved into a house built on a cemetery or something - truly scare me more in a film than other types of horror.

The rub is that I haven't seen a good ghost movie in a loooong time. In fact, I don't know that really all that many ghost movies have come out in recent years. I could look it up but what I'm gunning for in the genre is the good old-fashioned ghosts of yore. The stuff that really freaks me out - things moving on their own or other such unnatural occurrences, a la Poltergeist. Although usually pretty formulaic, ghost movies or haunted house/hotel/hospital/whatever movies are my absolute favorite and I need more of them - NOW.

The last good supernatural film I saw was probably The Orphanage, but even that was more dramatic than ghosty, even though it had a couple of good creepy moments. Have I missed the boat on other apparitions to grace the screen? I'm liking the bloody and violent and fun movies that have been coming out recently, don't get me wrong. Lately though I've been jonesing for a nice creep-fest with things from beyond. So get moving, filmmakers! I'll be on that shit like white on rice.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Review: Hatchet 2 (2010)

Before talking about Hatchet 2, let's go back to 2006. The first Hatchet film was a blast. It did what all the advertisements said it would do and brought back the old school slasher awesomeness of days gone by. It was hilariously funny and campy, with tons of over-the-top gore and effects that made it an amazingly fun time to watch.

So here comes the "however." Hatchet 2 just didn't do it enough for me. It was surprisingly and sadly not as fun to watch as the first one, which had me laughing at the ridiculous characters and their lines just as much as the crazy gore. The sequel never even got a chuckle out of me. The shift in tone works for the story, though, and it was a great way to distinguish itself from the first film - I just can't help missing the tone from the first movie, I'm sorry!

Taking off from the very last frame of Hatchet, this sequel has our final girl Marybeth (now played by the always wonderful Danielle Harris) being rescued from the hideous Victor Crowley by another swamp-dwelling loner named Jack Cracker. However, Jack soon throws her out when he finds out who she is and sends her to Reverend Zombie to learn the truth about herself and the curse of Victor Crowley. Marybeth and Zombie then head back into the swamp with a team of hunters to finally take Crowley out.

The cast for this film is nothing short of a horror movie lover's absolute wet dream. Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland... I'm thoroughly impressed. Tony Todd is pretty much a guarantee for me to watch any film, even if it's just him standing there reading from the Joy of Cooking or something.

The big thing the Hatchet films are known for is of course the excessive gore and Hatchet 2 is certainly no disappointment in that area. The first kill is most indicative of what's to come, albeit completely unbelievable. Victor pulls out Jack Cracker's intestines with his bare hands, then strangles him with them, then somehow manages to lop his head clean off with them. It's not like he was using piano wire or some other such shit, it was freaking intestines and intestines cannot cut off someone's head. But of course it was still amazingly fun, so I honestly don't really care.

The body count is upped from the first film with lots of new, clever and gruesome ways for people to die. Highlights include: head bashing with a hatchet; a sander to the back of the head; double chainsaw crotch-to-head slicing; a brutal jaw rip; and the biggest highlight of all, Tony Todd's demise. He gets chopped in half and then gets flayed when Victor pulls his body out of his skin by his protruding spine. Whoa. I fear for Adam Green sometimes. He's getting a little too good at coming up with this kind of stuff. Not really - he needs to keep coming up with this kind of stuff because it is AWESOME.

One thing I liked about the plot was the extended backstory given about Victor. The original story presented was okay, but didn't explain how Victor could be this vengeful ghost in the swamp. In fact, I always just assumed that he didn't really die when his father hit him with the hatchet and sort of hid out for years like Jason did. Now though, we learn that Victor was cursed in utero by his father's, Thomas Crowley, wife because Thomas was having an affair with his wife's nurse while she was dying of cancer. He was born a monster and really is an innocent, having to pay for the sins of his father, literally. So now we feel even more sorry for him now like we do with Leatherface and Jason. Poor deformed little boys.

Hatchet 2 isn't true movie length, which is disappointing because I wanted more. It clocks in at about 82 minutes - too short! Sure we all knew where the basic story was going when it started - more people go into the swamp, more people get killed, Victor Crowley gets killed - so I guess you don't really need that much time to tell that story, but can you blame me for wanting more Hatchet? The sequel is still a great movie, though. Loved the gore (very, very well done), loved the actors and their performances, and loved that Kane Hodder also gave a terrific performance, and looked dead sexy... as Thomas Crowley, of course, not Victor.

Back to my comment about Tony Todd reading from a cookbook... that would be kind of awesome. Just picture that beast of a man standing on a spooking soundstage and using that amazing voice to say things like, "Beat two eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add flour, sugar, and paprika. Stir well." Ohhhh, I'm weak in the knees. Todd especially could make that sound incredibly sexy and/or scary.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Movie Review: 127 Hours (2010)

So that bandwagon dropped by my house today. You know, the bandwagon of all the people who loved 127 Hours? Let's just say that I jumped right on.

The well-known story of the film is based on the true experience of a young climber named Aron Ralston. Aron goes for a hike by himself one day in Blue John Canyon and while shimmying around in a crevice, a boulder falls loose, and it and Aron fall into the crevice with the boulder crushing his hand and trapping him. Aron spends five tortured days trapped until he does the unthinkable to free himself.

What's to say about this film that so many others haven't already said? It is beautifully and artistically shot; emotionally paced; and authentically acted by the lead, James Franco. I'm a sentimental chick and Danny Boyle can deliver that shit so well it should be illegal. Slumdog Millionaire, even The Beach, and now 127 Hours are making me love this dude more and more. 'Nother bandwagon, and I'm on it.

I've said it once, I'll say it again and again: I think desert locations are ABSOLUTELY beautiful. The lush greens of a forest or jungle are nice, but I've always been drawn to the vastness of a desert, or similar-type location, with its rugged terrain and beautifully natural red and brown earth tones, perfectly lit by the afternoon sun. Jagged rocks and immense boulders might be intimidating or scary to some but it's like the perfect world to me. And the cinematography in this film captures this landscape in amazing ways and made me want to keep watching just to see more.

There were a lot of moments that really got to me in the movie. When Aron, starting to become hopelessly delirious, pretends that he is interviewing himself on a talk show, I got so sad. Though the scene is done in a humorous way, it has the exact opposite effect because Aron is admitting to himself his own stupidity and feeling of invincibility. They say all us young'uns have it, the feeling that we'll live another day to make more mistakes or correct the old ones, but the boulder teaches Aron that maybe he's not been living his life the best way for himself.

This is also confirmed in another great scene where Aron talks about how the boulder has been waiting for him since its own creation, like it's been out to get him. It's the cliche of how a near-death experience makes you appreciate your life more, sure, but I like the way that lesson is expressed in 127 Hours. Aron is fun-loving and a little cocky, which is perhaps why he never feels it necessary to tell anyone, friends or family, where he's going. Obviously once he's become trapped he realizes how stupid that was, how he should have told someone and how he should have answered the phone when his mother called.

His flashbacks and hallucinations are strangely shot, with some odd camera work but I suppose as hallucinations that makes sense. Lots of unnatural angles and editing give these scenes that truly dreamy feel, as little bits of Aron's life story are revealed. He has not treated his girlfriend right and not fully appreciated his relationship with his family - perhaps taken all of them for granted. A good lesson for anyone.

James Franco was definitely an up-and-comer but his earlier career left much to be desired. Then he made a leap in the fantastic film Milk in 2008 and now this one, so I'd say this boy has no place to go but up. He carries 127 Hours beautifully and gives a quite authentic and endearing performance. He's a kind of crazy and weird character whom you're unsure about in the beginning because he's slightly off but by the time the boulder traps his arm he becomes more real somehow and like somebody you would want to be friends with and get to know.

His character (and I guess the real guy, also) is smart about his situation. He tries inventive methods to move the boulder, even tries slowly chipping away at it and building an elaborate pulley system. He conserves his limited resources - though I knew early on that at some point I'd be watching him drink his own pee. The decision to amputate comes about more quickly than I thought and while this scene has traumatized some people who saw the film in early theater screenings (they fainted? seriously?), I didn't think it was all that bad.

Okay, I lied. That scene was kind of gross. The knife is like an inch long so after he breaks his arm twice, there are some pretty graphic shots of him sticking his fingers into his arm and pulling apart his muscle tissue or something. Wrong. So wrong. But I think it was important to the movie. It was Aron's big moment of truth and strength and courage and all that junk and the scene was handled well - graphic enough to be truthful, but not overly gruesome.

Good movie pretty much all around. Completely loved it. By the way, the text at the end that says that the real-life Aron always leaves a note to say where he is going to be made me cry. I don't know why, but I teared up like you wouldn't believe at that line.