Sunday, July 31, 2011

Deadly Dogs Week: The Breed (2006)

I think I liked The Breed a lot more than I should have. But it's one of those movies in the in-between - it's not really bad and it's not really good at the same time.

Two brothers, Matt and John, take their friends Nicki, Sara, and Noah to a late uncle's cottage on a remote island for a weekend of drinking and fun. They think they're the only ones there until one evening when a vicious dog attacks one of them and the rest of the pack soon shows up. Now stranded in the cottage, the group must find a way off the island with a horde of vicious German Shepherds wanting to eat them.

Okay, so the plot sounds stupid. There are plenty of animals out there scary enough to be the villain of an Animals Run Amok horror movie - sharks, snakes, spiders, alligators - but dogs are pets. Most of us have or have had one and we love them like our own children. Take a dog like a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler, however, and you have the potential for a pretty nasty beast. They're large and muscular with sharp, sharp teeth, so yeah they can be scary. Multiply one deadly dog by twenty and I can sort of believe it as a serious situation for our characters.

The explanation given for the dogs' viciousness is conveniently vague. The brothers recall over the course of the movie that on the other side of the island there was once a compound holding dogs for the purposes of training them, but it was shutdown after an outbreak of rabies. But these dogs on the island don't have rabies. Instead, at that same compound the people who ran the place were apparently doing genetic experiments on the dogs. It wasn't fully explained but I'm guessing that the experiments made the dogs more aggressive and homicidal.

What keeps this movie from utter ridiculousness is the acting and the serious tone of the movie. Oliver Hudson, Michelle Rodriguez and Taryn Manning all play their roles surprisingly well. There is no bad overacting (well, except by the couple at the beginning, that chick was annoying). They are just five normal twenty-somethings having a good time and their world is shattered. They all handle the situation as smartly as is expected and do what they can and what they have to in order to survive.

Oliver Hudson as the bad boy brother John is cliched but not distracting. Manning and Rodriguez are the real talents here and I like them both as actresses (Manning's voice is FANTASTIC) so they're okay with me in The Breed. The only one who brings the film down is Eric Lively as the other brother Matt and he is frankly as dull as dishwater in his role.

The Breed is not without its faults, though. The basic plot points are uninspired; there is absolutely no suspense or scare moments; and overall there is really nothing about this movie to go crazy over. Wes Craven was producer on this but I hardly see any of his influence if there was any. There are not many deaths and those that we see are not that gory or exciting. An impaling on a makeshift merry-go-round is the only good death but its not much to look forward to.

The movie also fails in that it often breaks the own rules that it sets up for the situation. The dogs are supposedly surrounding the cabin so the kids can't go out. Then there are several times where they are seen walking around outside to do things or get things with no fear of the dogs being around. Then, after Nicki is impaled through the calf with an arrow by Bad Shot John (major OW, by the way - I hate calf injuries), she later forgets that she's supposed to be in pain and limping and is able to climb on rafters and run from the dogs with no showing of her injury.

The Breed is not a movie that you absolutely must see right now but I don't think it can really be condemned as much as others think. It passes the time and it's not a bad movie to kick off my feature this week! Stay tuned for more movies with Deadly Dogs!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Love Letter to Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Dearest Deep Blue Sea,

I love you. I just don't know how else to put it. I am hopelessly and completely in love with you. Nothing gets this little horror girl more excited than a movie about animals eating people, so you were kind of in my cool book before I even saw you. But then I finally did see you... and it was love at first sight.

I remember when I first saw you. Sitting in a dark theater, Cherry Coke in hand, I was giddy with excitement about a shark-eating-people movie. Super excited. And you starred Samuel L. Jackson, Thomas Jane, and freaking LL Cool J, which immediately made me think that you were going to be awesome. Then the lights dimmed, the titles floated onto the screen, and that kick ass music of yours started up. Suddenly, I became one with your awesomeness.

I mean, you are probably the best example of a typical B-type horror movie that is also pretty fucking great and more than a little enjoyable on repeated viewings. You have sharks... lots of big, mean, smart sharks and to be honest, who could not find enjoyment out of that? Even if someone is terrified of sharks, I bet they still like to watch them eat people on screen.

I love you more than Jaws. I KNOW, right? How do you stand up against such a classic, you ask? Because you are just so much damn FUN! Jaws is of course fantastic, but you've got something really special going for you and that is your sense of humor but also your sense of seriousness at the same time which is a hard thing to accomplish.

Your dialogue is mostly great but at other times fantastically cheesy. And I love cheese, the real kind and the horror-movie-bad-dialogue kind. You tried to be all cute with the water references and stuff, didn't you? Oh you naughty beast! Having your characters say things like "that's doesn't float" or "I don't make waves"... I dig that, I really do. I may initially scoff at the ridiculousness, but inside I secretly love it, I'm not ashamed to admit.

And I have to say, thank you so much for starring Thomas Jane. He was cute in The Sweetest Thing and all, but here you have him soaking wet for most of the movie (swoon!) and being a badass "shark wrangler" that is ultimately the hero of the whole piece. Sure, you have him falling down a lot (seriously, watch yourself and count how many times Thomas Jane falls down... what are you trying to do to this amazing man?) but he comes through time and again, helping the other people to safety and managing to avoid getting eaten the whole time.

Of course your most amazing part is when you have a shark jump out of the water and devour Samuel L. Jackson. Then two sharks are fighting over his body and his severed leg twitches for a second right in front of us. I mean, that was so amazing! You pretty much scored all the cool points in the world with that little bit. Although I think I saw that whole coming when he started making that speech... a cool movie like you would never let such serious speechifying go on for too long without someone getting bit in half.

And let's not forget the shark-o-vision. Movies with killer animals usually like to include some shots from the animal's point of view and you are no exception! The blurry-edged shark-o-vision swimming through the water, swimming through doors, seeking out Saffron Burrows or LL Cool J (or LL Cool J's bird), it's a bit cheesy like some of your dialogue but I can't blame you for not being able to resist the temptation.

Sure, you left me with some weird questions. Like, did Preacher really name his bird "Bird"? And how lame is that? After Tom Jane goes into the underwater tunnels and tranqs the shark, how did he get that big bitch onto the loading dock to the lab? Why would the fact that the sharks got smarter suddenly give them the ability to swim backwards? We've had this discussion before on my blog about Jaws 3 when the shark swims backwards out of the filtration pipe - it is physically impossible for them to do that, and their mental acuity would have no bearing on that. But honestly, that's all cool. It's all just little things that I've noticed about you over the 73849849 times I have watched you. It's not fair to nitpick, I know, and I hope you'll forgive me.

So, Deep Blue Sea, I hope this letter finds you well. I see you sitting there on my bookshelf, between Death Proof and The Departed, and I know I'll be pulling you down soon to once again bask in your glorious beauty. You are truly awesome and don't ever let anyone tell you different.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Movie Review: [REC] 2 (2009)

Oh baby, I have been waiting for this. [REC] 2 pretty much went straight from the mailbox to my DVD player and then into my horror-loving brain through my greedy eyes. [REC] is an insanely awesome Spanish horror film that I loved from the word "go" and I've been shaking in my pants ever since news of a sequel came out. Well, now I've finally seen it and gladly, [REC] 2 does not disappoint.

Taking off right from where the first film left us, [REC] 2 follows a small group of SWAT team-like leaders and a doctor from the Ministry of Health as they enter the quarantined apartment building after losing communication with those inside. Their orders are to record everything that happens and hopefully they can finally put a stop to the deadly infection that has taken over the building and the people in it.

The first doubt I had about this movie was how the filmmakers were going to justify using the real-time camera-vision thing from the first film. It made sense for that one because Angela and Pablo were already filming for a television show when they happen upon the apartment building. The SWAT guys going into the building and having to record everything for the health officials is a sort-of good excuse, but still a little iffy. Then the whole story gets turned on its head when we find out that the Ministry of Health guy leading the team is really NOT a Ministry of Health guy but a priest and what's been happening in the building is part of a religious experiment.

Ah, yes! Finally we get the truth about the infection. It was explained to a point at the end of the first film, but honestly, I still didn't get it. I was still believing there was some zombie-infection-virus thing going on and all the newspaper articles in the penthouse about demonic possession just confused me. The priest explains that the confirmation of the Portuguese girl's possession allowed the church, and one priest in particular, to discover that possession can be like a virus or infection in the host. While trying to find the antidote, using the girl herself in the experiments, the virus mutated and became contagious.

I truly thought that this little turn was quite ingenious. The idea of demonic possession as being a biological problem is a bit of a stretch, but it worked on me here. It's a different way to look at the monsters than if they were just zombies, or as the American version of [REC], Quarantine, interprets it, as people infected with rabies. There are a couple of good twists toward the end of the movie and while I usually enjoy spoiling the endings of movies, I feel like I should keep these to myself and just let you discover them on your own.

Okay, just one spoiler. And it's not really too surprising either - Angela shows up again. But I leave it at that.

Big downside to the movie was repetitiveness of the action sequences. Same thing, over and over - crazy yelling and red bloody eyes coming at our characters, teeth ready to chomp. The thing that got annoying in this movie was that different people are attacked several times and they are always able to throw them off - even if they remain at teeth distance for a long time - and walk away unscratched or unbitten, and therefore uninfected. With all the crazy kamikaze attacks by the possessed in this movie, a lot more people should have been turned or at least severely injured.

That aside, I was ecstatic to find a sequel that was just as good as, if not better than, the original. The acting was believable and real - loved the guy playing the priest. Very creepy face right there. The documentary style filmmaking was never distracting or too shaky or anything like that. As in [REC], scenes were often framed up very well to both look like a real film and like an amateur was shooting it. You could see all the important action, although at times the lighting was quite dark. But then again that sort of added to the scare factor.

[REC] 2 truly expands on the original film, answers questions from the original film, and brings in tons of new elements to make this movie almost a totally different experience.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: "Shock Value" by Jason Zinoman

Right off the bat: To all the horror-loving people reading this, you have to read this book! No excuses. I honestly haven't read that many books about films in general, but reading Shock Value taught me something. You owe it to yourself as a horror fan to not only learn from and study the films themselves but to also verse yourself in the entire story behind some of the most influential ones in order to fully appreciate what they mean and why they are so important. And Jason Zinoman does all this and more in this fantastic book that is a must read for anyone who considers horror to be a part of their life.

Thus begineth the review....

Ask horror fans what the most influential era or decade for American horror films was and most of them would say the 1970s. It was the beginning of a new age for the horror film when the classic monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man were replaced with a new kind of monster - people. Real horror can occur next door or in our own homes and be perpetrated by any of the people we meet in the world. A crop of young directors were able to tap into this sad new reality and hit American audiences with their take on horror films - the likes of which had never been seen before.

Author Jason Zinoman brilliantly explores this cutting edge era of filmmaking in his book Shock Value. He singles out the few independent directors and filmmakers and their classic influential films to explain how they brought in the age of New Horror, replacing the campy monster movies of previous decades. The big names are all here: Polanski, Carpenter, Romero, Craven, Hooper, etc. Despite, in some cases, being vehemently attacked by critics and audiences for what they had created, these directors and their films truly stood for something important - saying things that needed to be said and showing people horror in an honest and truthful way. With these films, horror suddenly became art while still having the power to scare the crap out of audiences.

Each chapter is a broad and at the same time in-depth overview of specific movies from the era, starting with Rosemary's Baby and ending with Alien. Zinoman has done his research here with tons of new interviews and stories about how movies like The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Exorcist came to be. I thought I knew most of the backstory to these films already but Zinoman not only explores the influences of the filmmakers but also explains how low-budget indies became national phenomena and are still talked about to this day. 

This is what stood out the most to me about Zinoman's book was the insane detail he puts into the background of the films and their creators. Some of the stories I've heard before, as they are part of the iconography of certain films, but a lot of it was complete news to me. And to me, these are important stories to know to fully appreciate these movies especially if you weren't lucky enough to be around in the 70s like me. 

It's amazing to think how some of those classic scenes and the way we think about these classic films could have been just happy accidents. The cultural and political implications of Night of the Living Dead were unknown to director George Romero until it was pointed out by people seeing it for the first time. Who knew that a love for actress Marilyn Burns and a Mafia made man were elements that helped get The Texas Chain Saw Massacre into theaters? And was it essentially a good thing that the relationship between John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon fizzled out because they eventually both went on to make two of the biggest movies of the decade?

Sidenote: The whole discussion of O'Bannon and Carpenter was a complete shocker to me. Get this: I didn't even know who O'Bannon was and what his contribution to horror was. The most interesting story out of the whole book to me was how O'Bannon came up with the alien-bursting-through-chest scene from Alien and how it was related to a very painful stomach condition he had through most of his life and is what ultimately killed him. A simple scare like that, influenced by the creator's own life, is just the kind of thing you need in a horror film to touch a nerve with everybody who watches it.

More than just a brilliant researcher, Zinoman also has some fabulous insights of his own about 70s horror. These were the most enjoyable parts of the book for me as a book about simple facts would have been boring. He gives you the lowdown on the who, what, where, why and how, and then he'll hit you with the most amazing analyses, thinking about these movies in ways that I've never thought of before.

For instance, I always thought that Psycho was considered as the birth of the modern slasher but Zinoman gives a strong argument against that, pointing out Psycho's only flaw. Unbeknownst to me, many people did not like the ending to Psycho when the doctor explains Norman's psychosis. Remember: "It's lot scarier when there's no motive." Zinoman ties this into his work by pointing out that aside from fairy tale monsters being replaced by people as the villains in horror movies, many of the villains had no real motive and were non-discriminatory killers. And that element from New Horror is still used in today's films.

While I think Zinoman explores the first two points of the subtitle for his book well - how these movies shocked audiences and educated people about how influential independent movies could be compared to Hollywood movies - he seems to skip over the last part about "inventing modern horror" too quickly. His mention of modern horror movies in the last chapter is a little hurried, and I didn't really get a clear idea of what his take on modern horror was, or how it relates to or has been influenced by 70s horror.

In fact, Zinoman's mention of only a few modern horror like Hostel, Saw, Scream, etc. seems dismissive of these films and doesn't talk about how horror has changed yet again in the new millennium. He seems to clump them all into the "torture porn" category (a phrase that is completely ridiculous and inaccurate for most of the movies it is applied to) or despair over the remakes of these 70s movies, which is unfair.

There's also a great "where are they now" chapter talking about each of the major players mentioned in the novel. Zinoman talks about the successes and failures they had after their most popular movies came out and what they've been doing up to this point. 

This book was truly a pleasure to read in every way. It was fascinating and funny, informative and insightful. I was very lucky to have been contacted to do this review and get an advanced copy (it's available now, but it was advanced when I got it) otherwise I might never have found this book. It is definitely a must-read for any fan of the genre, whether you think you know it all about these movies or not. I bet even the most die-hard fanboy or girl will find some new fact or story and will learn to love their favorite movies even more. So I salute you, Jason Zinoman, for opening up my eyes and my mind to look at this fantastic era of American horror in a fresh new way.

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror is available now! Pick up your copy and be sure to read the other reviews on the book tour going on now.