Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Short and Sweet: The Last Dinner

If you don't let your limitations bother you and just focus on coming up with a great story, then you will be successful, that's what I've always believed. Case in point, this short film by Steve Lanthripp called The Last Dinner. It's low budget and it shows, but the concept is absolutely genius! I don't even care about the rest. It's one of those shorts where you think you know exactly what is going on, but then they pull the rug out from under you and take you somewhere totally different. Love that. There's also a cheeky sense of humor that I love too. Great job!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Project Terrible: Morning Star (2014)

Overall, this Project Terrible round was not all that painful. I got some laughs and I got some goofy sci-fi and now I've got some... well, I'm not all that sure what this was. Morning Star, my pick from Robert Mohr at Gaming Creatively (and Mondo Bizarro), is some odd period piece that looks good but doesn't have anything else to back it up. Let me explain why.

This is a movie that has forgotten something that is usually pretty important to movies. Like a plot. Morning Star does not really have one. You'd think someone would have noticed that, but it seems like they were too focused on trying to make the film all deep and meaningful - which it is not at all. Basically, the movie begins with some lame battle where one dude who is never given a name survives. His best buddy ever was killed in said battle, which makes him sad, so he wraps the body up and sets out to take him home to be buried.

But you see, that really is as far as they get plot-wise. The whole movie is a repetitive series of the dude - we'll call him Soldier - travelling, sleeping, dreaming, meeting up with strange people, having conversations with these people where they both talk a lot but nobody really says anything, and having lame swordfights. THAT'S IT. His prophetic dreams or hallucinations supposedly give the audience clues as to Soldier's state of mind or what's really going on, but not so much. Even at the end, which is the most convoluted, ridiculous ending you have ever seen, you still have no idea what the fuck has been going on for the past 90 minutes. I even took some notes and I have no idea. Granted, I don't really care, but at least I tried. The filmmakers didn't.

I will give them some points because Morning Star does look good. Most of the movie takes place in various places outdoors so there are some nice landscape shots. This technique probably also helped them out since the film takes place during the Inquisition, all they had to worry about getting sorta-historically accurate was the costuming. Could be totally wrong, but again, I don't care. The really disappointing thing is that all these medieval swordfights that Soldier gets into suck really bad. Not one drop of blood! Ever! How is that possible? I thought for sure that these guys must have been inspired by Gladiator or Beowulf and would surprise the audience with some gory kills. What? Did you spend all your money on fake leather and dirt? 'Cause that's all there is in the movie.

The audience doesn't know if half of the events in Morning Star are ones that actually happened or not. The "plot" is just as comprehensible as Soldier's dreams. They try to make it so meaningful for Soldier, too, by having him be continuously visited by his dead buddy (although not in an awesome American Werewolf in London way) but that certainly doesn't help our confusion. What furthers the confusion even more than I thought possible, was when the movie suddenly jumps back in time to one of the very first scenes and then continue on from there as if none of the other stuff ever occurred. The dialogue tries to wax poetical with every word out of every character's mouth, but it just ends up sounding like narcissistic, inane bullshit. None of it means anything, don't even try to make me believe otherwise.

Morning Star is nothing more than a waste of time and film. There is no meaning and no reason for this movie to even exist, as it has no meaning. Ugh, I really hate movies like that. So that's it for this Project Terrible round, friends! It's been fun, as always!

That Netflix description for Morning Star though. "After conquering their enemies, a group of triumphant warriors returns home. But what starts as a day of celebration quickly turns to horror." For serious? That could not be further from the truth, and whatever jackhole wrote that is setting some viewers up for some very serious disappointment if they happen to his 'play' for Morning Star. And that's just not right.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Project Terrible: The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

For something completely different, we have my next Project Terrible film, assigned to me by Mr. Maynard Morrissey. And it's a crappy science fiction movie from the 50s, which can sometimes be fun, but is not really at all in this case. Plus, I was having some computer and sleeping issues while trying to watch it and have now seen the first 20 minutes about five times now. They didn't really improve over time, in case you were wondering.

So this movie is about a mysterious "phantom" in the sea that is claiming the lives of some people that we don't care about. A government agent and an oceanographer both arrive on scene at the same time to find out what the monster is and who or what created him. And a local professor has been acting very secretive lately...

The first of many big mistakes of Phantom from 10,000 Leagues is that they show the audience the "phantom" literally within two minutes of the movie starting, when it kills a local fisherman. I know it's on the poster, but seriously. Do they have no sense of mystery at all?! You can pretty much turn off the movie after seeing that, because the monster is the most interesting part about it. He looks kind of like a Chinese Fu Dog - except for the hole right under his chin for the head of the actor in the suit. There's a lot of talk about the science about how the Fu Dog was created and such but it all sounds like blah, blah, blah to me. Something about a radioactive rock and nuclear light.

Another problem is that there are a lot of characters to get straight. First Ted Baxter shows up and finds the dead fisherman at the beginning, then he meets up with the Department of Defense investigator Grant. Then this other guy named George Thomas shows up next, and he's the assistant to Professor King, who works at the local oceanographic college. But then Ted Baxter's real name is not Ted Baxter, it's Dr. Stevens, and he's another oceanographer who has done research on the effects of radiation on marine life. Then there's the Professor's daughter, the Professor's secretary, and this other blonde femme fatale who all play somewhat important parts. Ahhh! Stop bringing in new characters! Nobody is really the main character for most of the movie and it gets a bit hard to follow sometimes, especially if you're half-asleep like I was. Also, transitions between scenes and characters are not very good, and you never know who you are going to be following next.

You're so busy trying to figure out what is going one with these people and who is lying to who and who is selling secrets to a foreign power, that you forget about the phantom for a while. He pops up again at about 45 minutes in, but only very briefly. With that huge headpiece on the costume, the poor stunt guy can't really do much anyway to make the monster look scary, except move his arms around a little bit. Definitely not as fluid as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Wait! Did poor Ethel just get SPEARED on the beach? Hey, things are looking up! Well, not too much. The climax has some cool explosions, but still nothing all that exciting from the monster. Maybe the movie is trying to say that the humans who created him are worse the monster himself! How thought-provoking!

Like any good movie from this era, there has to be an unbelievable love story in it. I knew from the second that Stevens met King's daughter Lois that they were going to hook up. And surprise, surprise - they did! There's even a little meet-cute scene where arrives at the house to meet the Professor and Lois walks out of the bathroom after taking a shower, not knowing he's there. Oh, how awkward and full of sexual tension! They probably end up getting married after they watch Lois's father blow up in the ocean with the phantom - something that she surprisingly doesn't freak out about. Your father just got BLOWN UP. Shed a tear, at least.

I guess there's some nostalgic charm to The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues because of the monster and all the talk about radiation and death rays. It's definitely a product of its time and fits in nicely with other similar movies from the decade. But for me, it feels way longer than its 80-minute runtime because the movie is so slow and full of exposition. The action is minimal and lame, and the overall presentation of the movie is just plain boring. Nice pick, Maynard!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Project Terrible: Movie 43 (2013)

So what round of Project Terrible are we at here, guys? Are we in the 20s yet? Who cares, it's a good time, every time and I'm just happy to be back. The core four of us are participating this round - me, Alec, Maynard, and Bob - and as usual, there is a quite diverse group of films going on. My first movie, assigned to me by Alec, is one that people apparently really, really hated. Awesome.

Movie 43 is this sketch-comedy anthology thing with a shit-load of big name stars in it. The wraparound story is Dennis Quaid as a screenwriter trying to pitch all his bad movie ideas to exec Greg Kinnear. All the shorts are then his ideas, get it? One or two, and sometimes five, Hollywood A-listers star in each sketch - most of them going completely against type from what they are known to usually play.

I really have no problem saying that I actually liked Movie 43 a lot. The great thing about an anthology, too, is that you don't really have to like the WHOLE movie, really. There were definitely some sketches here that weren't my taste, but I wasn't crazy offended by any of them and I didn't outright hate any of them. No, I lied. I hated the one with Anna Faris. But that was it! The rest of Movie 43 is just a bunch of oddball sketches where the material is kinda funny - but it's mostly only funny because of the actors involved.

So what can you expect to see in Movie 43? Well, there's Kate Winslet on a blind date with Hugh Jackman, who has balls hanging from his neck. There's Chloe Moretz getting her first period at her boyfriend's house. There's Richard Gere peddling the iBabe - an iPod that looks like a life-size naked woman. There's Halle Berry playing Extreme Truth or Dare. And there's Elizabeth Banks getting peed on by a cartoon cat that is in love with his owner, Josh Duhamel. The overall idea is that this is a "gross-out" comedy which is probably my least favorite thing in the entire world. Strangely though, the gross-out stuff here didn't really go that overboard for my taste (except the Anna Faris one... really, really was not amused by that). There is way more juvenile crap out there than this, trust me.

The two best sketches of the bunch are "Homeschooled" with Naomi Watts and Live Shreiber, and "Superhero Speed-Dating" with Justin Long, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Leslie Bibb, and some other people that I didn't know. Both of these were actually pretty clever with their comedy, like the parents who homeschool their kid - but still torture and belittle him so he'll get the "real" high school experience. Justin Long as Robin in "Superhero Speed-Dating" was adorable and I really liked the self-aware comedy of this segment, and the cheap look of the superhero costumes.

There were also a couple of funny fake commercials. "Machine Kids" was pretty awesome, and will maybe make you think twice about getting angry at that copy machine or ATM. Something that also got a big laught out of me was the Tampax commercial that shows a woman being hideously devoured by a shark in the ocean, followed by the tagline: "Tampax. Now leak-proof." And the whole period segment before the commercial should be amusing to a lot of woman because it makes fun of the way men freak the fuck out over girls' periods.

So who knows? Maybe it was the spring-like weather of the day that put me in a good mood and helped me enjoy Movie 43 more than I should have, or more than other people think I should have. It was genuinely funny at times, and even when it wasn't, it was just so off-the-wall ridiculous that you kinda just enjoy it for that. Usually this kind of thing would have been terrible to me, Alec, but alas, not this time!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Win a Scarlet Gospels Prize Package!

Dudes, Clive Barker has a new novel coming out in May about Pinhead called The Scarlet Gospels, and the website I contribute to, Wicked Horror, is hosting a contest where you can win a copy of the book and some other awesome stuff!

It's a fan art contest, but don't be losers and think you can't win something because you can't draw. Put your heart and your love for Pinhead into it and we'll see it! It can be realistic, it can be graphic or abstract, it can be simplistic, we don't care! You can even make a fan video of some kind, like that stuff you see on YouTube. I'm so excited to be a part of hosting this contest, and I'm even more excited to see what fans can come up with.

Also, I can say with absolute certainty that The Scarlet Gospels is an awesome book, and Hellraiser and Clive Barker fans will definitely want to read it!

I've reposted the information about the contest below, but go to the Wicked Horror site for all the info and a picture of the prize package!

“If you're already excited for the release of Clive Barker's new novel The Scarlet Gospels this May 19th, then Wicked Horror has something to get you even more excited! We're working with St. Martin's Press on The Ultimate Pinhead Buzz-building Competition, where one lucky fan will win an awesome Scarlet Gospels Prize Package!

All you have to do is put your artistic skills to the test to create your own unique fan art for The Scarlet Gospels. Use your computer, paint, watercolor, pencil, or even crayon to show your love for your favorite Cenobite Pinhead and/or his adversary in The Scarlet Gospels, investigator Harry D'Amour. You can also make a video! Then email your submissions to our Wicked Horror staff writer by clicking HERE (or use address seeno_evil63@yahoo.com) with “Scarlet Gospels Contest” as the subject, and be sure to include the title of the book in your art. The winner will be chosen by the Wicked Horror staff.

What's included in the Prize Package? (pictured here)
- A hardcover copy of The Scarlet Gospels
- A Lemarchand Box
- A poster of Clive Barker's Pinhead artwork
- Plus, your artwork/video will posted on the St. Martin's Press social media pages

In addition, 4 runners-up will each receive an advanced reader's copy of The Scarlet Gospels, and will also have their art/video appear on the St. Martin's social media pages!

The contest is officially open NOW and entries will accepted until May 1st, 2015. Remember to include "The Scarlet Gospels" somewhere in your artwork, go HERE to submit it to Wicked Horror (using “Scarlet Gospels Contest” as the subject), and be sure to like the Wicked Horror Facebook page for all your horror news!

So get creating and get excited for the release of The Scarlet Gospels!”

See, that's easy enough! The entries are being submitted to me at my email address - seeno_evil63@yahoo.com. I would enter this contest myself just for that Clive Barker artwork poster, but it's one of YOU who will winning it, so get those entries to me! Remember, you have until May 1st!

Prize Packages can only be sent to residents of the United States and Canada.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Movie Review: Contamination: A Convention Story (2012)

As I sit here to write about the documentary Contamination: A Convention Story, I've started counting down the days to the next convention I'm going to attend - less than two months! Going to these horror conventions has become very important to me in recent years, because for a horror fan, there is simply no other experience like it. Contamination takes on the epic task of exploring the topic of horror conventions, but doesn't exactly hit the mark.

"Contamination" is actually the name of a relatively new horror, sci-fi, and pop culture convention that takes place in St. Louis, Missouri (great name for a con, by the way!). The entire documentary was filmed at the 2011 show and includes interviews with several celebrity guests, vendors, and attendees, about what "Contamination" has to offer fans and what they love about conventions in the first place.

Much like the documentary Fantasm that tackles the same topic, Contamination is still not exactly the most complete doc about horror cons. It is only an hour long, which is long enough to get the general point across, but there was still plenty of time to explore some aspects of the topic much further. I was happy to see in this doc that they got interviews with real con attendees, because they are really what the film is, or should be, about and they should be among the stars of the show.

The thing that mostly bothered or confused me was that the doc was never very clear on what its purpose was. It says that it is an in-depth look at the fans and celebrities that attend horror and sci-fi conventions, but it is overall way too specific to the "Contanimation" show. So then it just feels like a highlight reel or promotional video for this one show this one year, and that really limits the scope of what they could have done, if they really wanted to make a great doc about conventions in general. However if, as the title sort of suggests, this was supposed to be a doc about "Contamination" specifically, then they did a great job. They highlight all of the very cool events that the con offered - a concert and a zombie hunt being the two coolest things for me.

The look of the doc is great. I really loved the interview setup with the subjects in front of a green screen and the comic-type background behind them. Two big horror names - Tony Todd and Kane Hodder - provide wonderful interviews where they are shown to be incredibly sincere about how much fun they have at conventions. They talk about how the loyalty of the fans impresses and humbles them, which I can definitely appreciate. The interviews with the Day of the Dead cast and the Fantastic Four cast also give insight into how conventions can be just as meaningful for the celebrities who attend. They serve as a means to meet up with old friends and reminisce about what was probably a very fun time in their lives. In this case, it was also meaningful because the Fantastic Four cast had never actually sat down and watched the film together, and "Contamination" was able to provide that for them.

But Contamination doesn't always get things right. As a documentary that is supposedly about fandom, some of the quotes chosen were another thing that confused me. When the title for the horror section popped up, I obviously got excited. But then they start off the section with several interviewees talking about how they don't like horror films. What the heck? Why were these quotes chosen? Then there was a section called "weird fans," where they seem to be almost making fun of some people. This is the opposite reason of why we go to conventions! It is a place where we don't have to fear being made fun of, so this section plus the badly chosen horror quotes were not to my liking.

Still, Contamination is a well-made and produced documentary that is simply not as thorough as it could have been. It doesn't follow through with the purpose I was initially given, but it definitely does make me want to consider attending a "Contamination" show myself in the future!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Movie Review: Hooked Up (2013)

You might have heard me say a time or two (or twenty) that I really like the found footage genre. The style alone sucks you in from the beginning, and makes sure that you stay until the end. And now it has finally happened - somebody has taken this beloved genre of mine to the next level by filming a movie entirely with an iPhone. Hooked Up is the result of that experiment. I applaud the effort, but definitely not the overall execution.

Two American friends take a trip to Barcelona after one has been dumped by his girlfriend. They cruise the local nightlife, looking for women to hook with for the night. They think they've hit the jackpot when a beautiful woman offers to take them to her house for some fun. But after things get a little weird, the guys find out that they are trapped in the house and might not make it out alive.

The big name behind the movie is Jaume Collet-Serra, director of Orphan, the House of Wax remake, and two Liam Neeson action flicks - Non-Stop and Unknown. Unfortunately, he's only an executive producer here, and newbie Pablo Larcuen takes the lead behind the camera - or, uh, phone. The overall film is really not much different than pretty much every other found footage movie out there. The look is the same and despite the use of a phone instead of a camera, it is actually quite competently shot. Though there isn't anything really new to be experienced here, they hit all the right beats that a found footage movie should, and I actually like the general story they came up with for the antagonist.

The likability of the two main characters, Tonio and Peter, is quite a hindrance early on in the film. In the first couple of minutes, viewers must suffer through staring at a toilet bowl full of puke while the two dudes talk through the bullshit that will get our plot going. Then the rest of the time they (or at least the dork with the mustache) are your average douchebags that only think about their penises, and just in general act very infantile. And why exactly did they have to travel all the way to Barcelona to hook up with random ladies in the first place? They were from New York - couldn't they have just hit up one of the many random clubs there?

The biggest problem with Hooked Up is that the movie actually gets worse as the plot gets more exciting. While the film actually started out as a mildly interesting and serious approach to the subgenre, the acting, the dialogue, and the storytelling goes majorly downhill once the boys find themselves in real trouble. The natural way of acting that really helps in found footage movies is something that the two actors never really get exactly right anyway, but it definitely doesn't get any better when they have to act scared and fighting for their lives. At times their line deliveries are so exaggerated that it almost feels like they are doing parody of or making fun of found footage.

In the same regard, the dialogue and the story also take a bad detour in the second and third acts. Maybe the dialogue problem was more about the aforementioned delivery, but when the audience - or just me, really - laughs during what is supposed to be a stressful scene, then there is something wrong. Likewise, the story between Tonio and Peter having to do with Peter breaking up with this chick named Lisa just gets so old and uninteresting... like, from the very beginning. But they keep harping on it through the whole movie until we get the full story (that we didn't really care about) which of course causes even more friction between the two friends, despite the fact that they are already fighting for their lives. Where I got lost was how all this was affecting one of the characters - did the forces inside the house make him go crazy or did he go crazy all on his own? It's never really explained.

I'll give Hooked Up an A for effort because of the fact that it was filmed with an iPhone and doesn't really look it. Still, the overall film is not that impressive and does not stand up well to other found footage movies out there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Movie Review: The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)

Oh man, here we go again. No time for much of an introduction for today's film, kids, because I've finally gotten around to seeing The ABCs of Death 2 (so I'm lazy and waited for it to come on streaming, what) which means I have 26 little films to talk about here. So let's just get into it.

I did the same kind of rating system that I did for the first ABCs of Death to make it a little easier for me - a star for ones that I really liked, a half-star for ones that I sorta liked but didn't really wow me, and a sad face mostly for ones that I was too stupid to get. So if I mention stars and half-stars and sad faces, that's what I'm talking about.

"A is for Amateur"
Directed by E.L. Katz
Not a bad way to start things out. I have not seen Katz's other directorial effort Cheap Thrills, but I have heard many good things about it. And I totally believe it after seeing Amateur. There's a really good flashy montage with funky music at the beginning to set up the story of a hitman going after his next mark - and then things go very wrong. Apparently those air ducts that people crawl around in are not always as clean as they are in the movies... Wonderfully funny twist at the end of this one.

"B is for Badger"
Directed by Julian Barratt
Things are starting off good. There are a couple attempts at found footage with ABCs of Death 2 and Badger is the first one. It is a very funny and simple story of a camera crew shooting a segment for their nature show called "Toland's World" about the supposed death of a badger colony or whatever because of a new power plant built nearby. The host is a bit of a douche so you'll like what happens here and hopefully you'll chuckle a bit, too.

"C is for Capital Punishment"
Directed by Julian Gilbey
Another simple story here, but one that really packs a punch with its intent and message. There's a missing girl in an obviously close-knit village and some poor guy has been accused and convicted by his peers. This segment has some great, horrific special effects and I really liked its comment not only on the death penalty, but also on the idea of the court of public opinion with the scene at the beginning.

"D is for Deloused"
Directed by Robert Morgan
The first of only two animated segments in the whole film and the first segment to get a sad-face notation from me. The animation is odd, as is the story that it tries to tell, so it was hard for me to really get a grasp on it. I'm not saying it was bad at all, just that it didn't really do anything for me.
"E is for Equilibrium"
Directed by Alejandro Brugues
A different location for a horror film, Equilibrium concerns two men that have apparently been stranded on a island for some time, when a woman suddenly washes ashore to join them. The story is very tongue-in-cheek but also just the slightest bit insulting so I can't totally give it my approval. I did love the filming technique they used, though, with the constantly moving camera to make it look like it was all mostly one shot but there are really several scenes and transitions within it.
"F is for Falling"
Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
I thought the guys who gave me the two amazing films Rabies and Big Bad Wolves would do the same here. Sadly, though, their segment Falling left me a little perplexed and not sure how to feel about it just yet. It involves a female soldier stuck in a parachute in a tree and the guy who comes to rescue her. Actually the quick series of unfortunate events reminded me of Rabies a little. However, the segment didn't have near enough punch that I know these guys are capable of giving us.
"G is for Grandad"
Directed by Jim Hosking
Oh my. What was this? Very, very odd little tale of a grown man living with his dear old Grandad - and then some weird shit happens. I really don't know what else to say about this one! I'm scared to learn where the idea for this one came from, that's for sure. Still, it does look good and has a nice setting and look for the actors, who are quite committed to their roles and really sell... whatever the hell this is supposed to be about.
"H is for Head Games"
Directed by Bill Plympton
The other animated segment of the anthology, and another one that I couldn't find myself getting behind. The animation is like pencil sketchings and has a male head and a female head starting out kissing, and then their bodies start to do weird stuff to each other with lots of exaggerated sound effects in the background. When the title comes up at the end of Head Games, it does make a bit more sense what they were trying to do but not enough for me to really love it.
"I is for Invincible"
Directed by Erik Matti
Haha, very nice shift from the last couple of segments! Invincible has a group of four people, supposedly relatives, who are torturing and trying to kill a bound old woman for her inheritance, but she just doesn't seem to want to die. There's a great sense of humor here and again, some very cool effects. The setting was also unique as well. They could have shot this anywhere, really, but instead chose a place where the set dressing was elaborate and plush and the colors were great.
"J is for Jesus"
Directed by Dennison Ramalho
There are few segments in this sequel anthology that actually have a really great story and I think this is definitely one of them. A gay man is tortured by two people apparently trying to exorcise the gay out of him when he is saved by a very special person. Good bloody scenes, and great makeup on one of the characters later on, and an important message. Nice work.
"K is for Knell"
Directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper
Ugh, another one that is technically really good, but that I really didn't get! A "knell" is like a death knell, when a bell rings all solemnly meaning impending death or something. The knell in the story is this weird, unexplainable thing that appears in the sky and how its effects come after one woman in her apartment. Again, the segment looks good and is really well shot, but I needed a bit more information and/or explanation to help me out a bit.
"L is for Legacy"
Directed by Lancelot Imasuen
The weakest segment of the bunch so far. The story is okay - some guys in a tribal village are about sacrifice some other guy but stop and then a big hairy monster walks around and kills people - but the execution is not as impressive as most of the other segments, especially the gore effects. The acting is also quite weak and lazy. However, I do really hope that the director's name is actually Lancelot.
"M is for Masticate"
Directed by Robert Boocheck
A quick, fun segment that just shows a fat, sweaty, hairy man running down the streets (in slow motion) attacking people. The final shot explains it all with one line of dialogue and it was actually pretty funny, so I have to at least half-like it for that.
I also really hope that the director's name is actually Boocheck.
"N is for Nexus"
Directed by Larry Fessenden
I'm only familiar with four of the directors this time around, and Larry Fessenden is definitely one of those. His contribution is Nexus, a cute but then tragic story about two people meeting up in the city for Halloween (dressed as Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein), and one person who ruins it all. Fessenden found a wonderful way to actually work the title and the letter of his segment into the story, which kinda makes it all the more sad and all the more meaningful.
"O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)"
Directed by Hajime Ohata
The real "wow" segment of ABCs of Death 2 doesn't come until the very end, but Ochlocracy is one of those gems that comes pretty close. The story they came up with here is absolutely fantastic, one of the ones that I would love to see get made into a full-length feature. In the short, a woman is being tried in a court of zombies for the murders that she committed during the zombie outbreak (shortly after the outbreak, a cure was found and the zombies are sorta alive and sentient now). Excellent idea for turning the zombie story on its head and coming up with something really interesting and unique.
"P is for P-P-P-P Scary!"
Directed by Todd Rohal
 Now that doesn't start with the letter P, like, at all. I'm calling shenanigans. Again, I didn't really get this segment at all. The style is sort of like The Three Stooges or something similar but the story just makes no sense. Definitely more comedy than horror here, and even then, more just weird goofball stuff that wasn't even funny than actual comedy. Nah, didn't like it.

"Q is for Questionnaire"
Directed by Rodney Ascher
You know, I always knew that taking intelligence tests from random people on the street was a bad idea. And now the main character of this segment does, too. This part of the story is intercut with what ends up happening after the character finishes his questionnaire, and it deserves a half-star for this easily readable technique that gets right to the punch and the point of the short. Are you starting to see what kinds of things I gravitate more towards? I can't help it, that's what I like.

"R is for Roulette"
Directed by Marvin Kren
Another one that deserves a half-star for being well-made and at least coherent, but is still shy of doing something that really wowed me. Roulette is shot in black and white and is set in the 40s, with three people in a basement playing Russian roulette. It doesn't look like they are being forced to or anything, but there is something outside the room that seems fairly sinister to them. There's a small twist to the story, and I really would have liked to know what was outside - another short that might qualify for a longer treatment - but otherwise nicely done.

"S is for Split"
Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno
Now, this one gets a full star for sure. Split refers to the editing technique used in the short which fans of the TV show 24 will love seeing again. The short feels like a quick re-cut of an action or thriller movie, especially because of the story - a man calls home from his trip away and while talking to his wife, overhears someone breaking into their house and then... you'll have to find out. Again, just a good simple story with a nice twist. Like the perfect cocktail, that's all you need.

"T is for Torture Porn"
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
Oh my little Soska twins, I wanted to like your segment so much but I really wasn't feeling it. The turn in the story from a woman being filmed by a bunch of douchebags to audition for a movie was way too over-the-top. I will say that it definitely got the point across of what they were trying to say about the treatment of women in films and in filmmaking. However, the fantastical manifestation they came up with for that wasn't to my personal liking and seemed to overshadow the message, which was actually a really good one. 

"U is for Utopia"
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Perfect! Utopia is another segment that works the letter into the story. In a futuristic mall of sorts, all the people are perfectly dressed and coifed, and there is one guy that obviously is out of place and ill-fitting of the rest of the patrons. He is scanned as a "sub-norm" and immediately dealt with by the utopian police. Another good message that hits a lot harder once the title pops up at the end, backed up by a well made short. Full star!

"V is for Vacation"
Directed by Jerome Sable
I grudgingly gave Vacation a half-star. It's another attempt at found footage, where a guy video chats with his girlfriend while he's on a vacation with his friend - and he's been naughty. I hate, hate, hate douchebaggy characters like this in movies but something still made me appreciate the segment in some small way. Maybe because they both die, I don't know. Maybe the blood and the little twist. Still didn't wow me. Now I'm thinking about changing my half-star to a sad face. I'll get back to you on this one.

"W is for Wish"
Directed by Steven Kostanski
This was another segment that came up with a cool concept. It starts out like a toy commercial with two little boys playing with the "Champions of Zorb" and all the fun they are having - until they are actually transported to the world of the toy. And this world is definitely not kid-friendly. I like the dark comedy of this segment and the way they turn a seemingly innocent child's toy on its head. "Fantasy Man"? Not really the kind of fantasy man you want him to be...

"X is for Xylophone"
Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
Oh. My. Goodness. They really saved some of the best for last. Xylophone has the badass Beatrice Dalle (a.k.a the psycho bitch from Inside) as a babysitter who just can't handle the annoying way her charge plays the xylophone while she's trying to listen to some nice, classical music. The ending is so unbelievably graphic and horrible that you wonder how they got away with it, but you are so glad they did. Would I sound completely horrible if I said I laughed a lot at this segment too? Whatever, I did. It was awesome.

"Y is for Youth"
Directed by Soichi Umezawa
Our second-to-last segment is yet another cool concept that is brought to life very well. An unhappy teenage girl is sitting between her mother and stepfather at the dinner table, and in her mind, as she goes through all the things that she hates about them, she fantasizes about what gruesome things should happen. Despite being fantastical and dream-like, I found myself liking the way her frustrations manifested themselves - even with the strange vacuum made out of fries.

"Z is for Zygote"
Directed by Chris Nash
Ah! Finally, I can talk about this one! They definitely picked the right filmmaker to end the whole shebang that is ABCs of Death 2, because Zygote is without a doubt the best segment of the whole bunch. A pregnant woman waits thirteen years for the return of her husband while their child continues to grow and grow inside her. The segment is touching in an odd way at first, though the main character is a little pathetic, and then things go totally gruesome and awesome around the middle, and then it ends with the viewer having some very bad thoughts in their head. I would love to talk more about the uber-gruesome part, but I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say there is a bit of a Lucio Fulci influence. LOVED this segment.

Much like its predecessor, The ABCs of Death 2 has about the same outcome you would expect from an anthology with so many different segments in it - some good, some bad. Unlike its predecessor, though, there were not nearly as many shorts that could easily be dismissed as just plain bad. Most of the segments this time around had something going for them with either style or substance, and even if they weren't exactly to my personal taste, I can still appreciate almost all of them. Seven segments really stood out for me in different ways, and those were Amateur, Badger, Ochlocracy, Split, Utopia, Xylophone, and Zygote.

Also something I noticed about ABCs of Death 2 was that it was overall much less wild and crazy as the first one, and that is definitely a good thing. There is nothing like F is for Fart this time, but there is also nothing like L is for Libido, either (even though Xylophone and Zygote come very close). The whole film is much more watered down and tame, and therefore, I think, just that much better.

Stay for the credits on this movie, too! There's an update for ABCs of Death 3 and a quite odd appearance from Laurence R. Harvey.

Hopefully I can get another nasty comment like I did on my review of the first film. :)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Movie Review: Avenged a.k.a. Savaged (2013)

Yet another surprisingly good little flick that came to me courtesy of October Coast Publicity! They really have some good stuff over there. Avenged is essentially a rape-revenge movie, but it is one that is unlike any other that you have probably seen before. It will be in theaters and on VOD on March 6, 2015, with a DVD release on April 21.

Young deaf-mute Zoe is travelling through the desert to meet up with her fiancé when she is kidnapped, raped, and killed by a group of local hooligans. A Native American finds her body and brings her back to life, not knowing that the spirit of a slaughtered chief has also possessed her at the same time. Using this power, Zoe sets off in her quest to punish her attackers one by one.

If that premise makes you furrow your brow a little bit, please do not be fooled. The film's biggest success is that it sets up just the right tone for itself, and wonderfully carries it through all the way to the end. Avenged never once feels like an exploitation film, never feels cheesy or silly, and never really goes over the top (even when it comes to the gore). Instead the film is moody and sad, slightly depressing but also strangely uplifting at the same time, just because it's always nice to see justice served.

Though at times a little stilted here and there, the acting by the entire cast is impressive. The two standouts for me were Rodney Rowland as Trey, and of course Amanda Adrienne as the lead character Zoe. She does an absolutely amazing job with a role that is entirely physical, having to convey all her emotions and create an entire character through facial expressions and body movement. Even after being reanimated, Zoe retains her humanity and is still in pain over what happened to her - and what is continuing to happen to her - and over the fact that she knows that she will never be with her fiancé again. Again, Adrienne conveys all these things beautifully. Rowland plays the lead bad guy Trey. While his actions against Zoe are despicable, I really liked his acting and his approach to the character. Trey is your average backwoods jerk, and Rowland never tries to make him any more than that - not as a criminal mastermind, or ultra-evil superhero villain.

The only time that the movie shows it's low budget is in a couple of scenes where the CGI is not exactly up to par with bigger budget films. There is a particular bit with a TV that really does not look all that great. Other than that, Avenged is filmed absolutely beautifully with perfect colors and lighting that match the film's mood and tone. The gore is a mix of mostly practical effects with some CGI, and they all look great. Zoe's first revenge kill involves treating a guy's intestines like a length of rope, and things don't let up from there. The makeup on Zoe's deteriorating body is equally impressive as the gore, and I loved her ingenious use of duct tape to (literally) keep herself together. There are also some scenes that involve effects of a supernatural nature. Once again, this material is handled in a respectful, serious way and does not come off as silly.

Writer/director Michael Ojeda's Avenged is an impactful, striking revenge tale that hits all the right notes. It is bloody enough to satisfy all those gorehounds like me, but also has a lot of heart and fantastic group of actors playing equally fantastic characters.