Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Movie Review: Creepy Crawlers (2000)

What a seriously surprisingly fun movie! I picked up Creepy Crawlers (aka They Nest), a TV movie from 2000, at my convention over two years ago because it was cheap and looked cool. But t's just been sitting on my shelf ever since then. I finally decided to pop it in tonight, and wish I had done so much sooner! I didn't know anything about the movie before, so I was, again, surprised to see in the opening credits that the movie was directed by Ellory Elkayem, whom you should all know and love from Eight Legged Freaks.

After having some problems at work because of his alcoholism caused by a divorce, Dr. Ben Cahill takes a forced vacation at his second home on a small island in Maine. He's not welcomed by some of the locals, especially when a few of them wind up mysteriously dead. It turns out that a massive hoard of rare cockroaches have taken over the island, made all the more deadly by the way they nest inside their hosts.

Creepy Crawlers is most definitely Elkayem's warm-up or practice film to do before Eight Legged Freaks was released two years later. The quirky, fun-spirited tone of Eight Legged Freaks is completely present in Creepy Crawlers, and it is heightened mostly by the acting and music. The situation still feels real and dangerous, and there are some really great gross-out and hilariously shocking moments here. The story moves fast, although it does go a little too fast at the end, when the climax comes too quickly and is not quite as satisfying as it should have been.

Thomas Calabro (of Melrose Place fame) as Cahill is more goofy than sincere in his role, but it works perfectly in the movie, especially when he's up against the resident, "all-outsiders-suck," islanders. Instead of acting all somber and depressed like you'd think a divorcee would, Cahill is actually refreshingly okay with his situation and just seems to be trying to make the best of it. He's quite charming and likable, as is Nell, the requisite unencumbered hot island girl with whom Cahill could have a chance. They don't push the issue too hard, though, which I really liked.

As a sidestory to the cockroach problem, there is also something going on with one particular man on the island, Jack Wald, who is angry with Cahill for buying his family home that was taken by the bank. He in turn has some friends that are behind him, and cause some extra shenanigans with Cahill, the sheriff, and Nell when they obviously have more pressing matters at hand. Instead of feeling out-of-place, though, this actually does add some extra conflict to the plot which otherwise might have been too easy to get out of - just get off the island.

The effects are pretty great! Like I said before, there are some good gross-out moments, like the cockroaches in the chicken, when Cahill gets a roach on his fork while having dinner with Nell. Of course there are some computer-animated roaches in there, but it's to be expected and it looks fine, especially when they have to have a whole hoard of them in the barn sequence or when they are crawling all over people. Possibly the most surprising moment comes when the roaches attack Sheriff Hobbs, in a pure "The fuck?!" scene. The effects of the roaches as they burrow inside people are okay, but I would have really like to see a scene where they full-on burst out of the host, like we assume we do based on all the dead animals bodies lying around, but maybe that would have been too much for TV. Also, look forward to a great cockroach vs. hamster chase sequence.

Creepy Crawlers (I think the official title is actually They Nest but Creepy Crawlers is the DVD I got) is a wonderful little animals run amok movie with a great personality. The climax has a great setup, but it needed just a bit more tension to make it really explosive and satisfying. Otherwise, really fun movie! I loved it!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)

How can things go so wrong? I actually had some pretty high hopes for Night of the Living Dead 3D - the original is of course a seminal and wonderful film, and the remake from 1990 is equally great. So I picked up NOTLD3D at my last convention for a pretty cheap price (which I am now very grateful for) thinking that it couldn't be all that bad. I mean, it has Sid Haig in it, right? Welp, while Sid rocks the house like he always does, he's pretty much the only good thing about the movie.

NOTLD3D tells the classic story from the original film, and it has elements of both a reimagining and a meta-type horror film. Barb and her brother Johnny arrive at the Shady Rest Cemetery to attend their aunt's funeral, but are instead attacked by the living dead. Johnny escapes, and Barb is saved by a man named Ben, who takes her to the nearby house of some friends. The group holes up for night as they fight off the group of flesh-eating zombies.

I'm not the biggest fan of 3D in the first place. Sure, it's cool to look at for a while, but the novelty usually wears off pretty quickly once my eyes start to hurt and I can't see things as well. But, the DVD came with the glasses and I figured that if this was how the movie was supposed to be seen, then that's how I should see it. There are a couple of cool shots here and there that tripped me out, but for the most part, the 3D is unnecessary, like it always seems to be for me. I just can't get into it. I've tried and it hasn't worked. So there's that, unfortunately.

When talking about the story, again I have to ask - how could they have gotten things so wrong? The story is a simple one that has worked two times before and really doesn't need all that much tweaking. And for the most part, at least in the beginning, they don't really make any drastic changes for this version. Those come later when the explanation for the dead returning to life is completely different, and completely doesn't make any sense. Still, I really liked the not-subtle-at-all homages to the first film, which begin right off the bat when the original is playing on a television and the title credit turns into the title credit for this movie. If you're expecting to hear Johnny's famous line, it comes in the form of a text. Later on, when Barb gets to the farmhouse and starts talking about the dead coming back to life, she walks in on the family actually watching Night of the Living Dead on television. Of course, there's no acknowledgement about the fact that the characters have the same names as the people in the movie or that they are in the exact same situation, but I really didn't expect that anyway.

What I did expect, though, was at least some decent acting. Everyone in this movie just seems so uninterested and bored in what they are doing. While hearing a bunch of people shrieking and cursing during stressful scenes is admittedly not a lot of fun either, I see now that it is equally bad to have people acting way too calmly. How many times do these stoners just languish around while there is something serious going on? Or have perfectly normal and calm conversations at a time when nobody, least of all the audience, gives a fuck? When Karen goes missing, her father is barely able to puke out enough emotion for us to believe it. One of the greatest characters in horror ever, Ben, has been replaced by a motorcycle-riding loser who isn't nearly as authoritative or brave as Duane Jones or Tony Todd made him. On the flip side, Barb is more of a heroine, but not by much, and there is nothing interesting or endearing about her character. I really couldn't believe how wooden and boring everyone was, and their poor acting completely ruined any scene that had any potential to be exciting or scary.

Sid Haig is the biggest selling point of the movie, and while I enjoyed him like always, he's not a good enough reason to put yourself through this movie. He's the crazy mortician who has a problem with burning up dead bodies in his daddy's crematorium, so he's just been storing them for the past two years. Somehow, that translates into said bodies reanimating themselves. Don't ask me how. The makeup effects are okay, but I really hated the cartoony or comic booky look of the zombies. Tovar's father was the worst, all green and way too fleshy. There are not nearly enough good zombie kills, and I was severely disappointed in the gore factor for this movie. Maybe the best and stupidest part is when Barb lights Tovar's father on fire. Just because fire is cool.

With only ten minutes or so left to go on this movie, my scratched DVD started skipping around a bit so I didn't get to see all of the climax, but I got most of it. It wasn't any better than the rest of the movie. It's almost unwatchable and more than forgettable, not nearly on par with the original or the remake.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Which Franchise Is Next?

I think that doing all these franchise reviews is becoming my "thing." It has been fun, painful, and at times really, really weird, but still cool to be discovering all these movies that I might not have bothered with before. Search around this blog and you'll see what it was like to watch all the Howling movies, how terrible Wishmaster got with each new entry, how unassumingly awesome Puppet Master could be, and, most recently, how some of the Hellraiser sequels really aren't all that bad. Except Revelations.

There are many more franchises to tackle in the future. So what will my next one be? Here's a hint...


 Coming soon!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Movie Review: 100 Bloody Acres (2012)

You'd think I would have learned by now not to completely underestimate some of these random movies that I find through Netflix. They go in the queue, and they sit there for months before I give them a chance because I've never heard anything about them. Then I finally watch them, and sometimes they are totally amazing! Case in point is this Australian horror comedy, 100 Bloody Acres, which was written and directed by Colin and Cameron Cairnes.

Reg and Lindsay are the Morgan Brothers, who run a small organic fertilizer business in South Australia. They've found out that using humans in their fertilizer makes for a better quality product, which means bad news for the three stranded motorists that Reg happens upon while trying to make a delivery to their most important customer.

It seems like you can usually tell in the first 10 or 15 minutes of a movie like this, and 100 Bloody Acres has a great hook right in the first scene. Reg pulls over when he sees a crashed van by the side of the road and - because the audience already knows what he is up to from the description of the film - decides to throw the dead driver into the back of his box truck. A great hook moment in this scene is when Reg gives up on trying to drag the body all the way to his truck and instead hops in and backs it up closer to the body. It's something small, but it let me know that this was going to be a very smart comedy, and the kind that I particularly enjoy watching.

These first few scenes also set up a great dynamic between our three travelers who are on their way to a music festival - Sophie, Wes, and James. Sophie and Wes are first seen making out while James is off trying to fix the car, but when they're all together again, it's clear that Sophie and James are the real couple and Wes is the man on the side. James is also secretly planning on proposing to Sophie. This little love triangle is not necessarily that important to the plot, but later on it does provide us with some of those great this-is-not-the-time-to-be-talking-about-this moments between the characters.

All three of these guys are very likable, despite the minor flaws in their morals. James is the sweet, puppy-dog boyfriend, who is countered by the arguably hotter and cooler Wes. Wes seems like he's supposed to be the cocky asshole but he is in fact incredibly likable just because of how funny he is, especially when on acid. Sophie is a great female character that I always like to see because she is not the traditionally super-sexy or hot horror girl. Again, despite the fact that she is cheating on her sweet boyfriend, she has a great personality, and seems genuinely nice when making conversation with Reg in the truck. She also handles herself well as the movie gets even more crazy, while the boys make silly - and funny - little mistakes.

Reg is both like the hero and the villain, and the one that audiences will probably end up loving the most. He's a cute small town farm boy with a heart of gold, looking for acceptance from his domineering older brother with anger issues. The brother dynamic is also interesting to watch and it kind of makes me curious to learn more, seeing as how the film was written and directed by a pair of brothers. Reg is brilliantly played by Damon Harriman. His acting and the writing make you accept both sides of the character - where he is definitely complicit in the crimes with Lindsay (yet you still love him while he's doing it), but you really see the moral journey that he takes. Angus Sampson as Lindsay, who genre fans will recognize as Tucker from the Insidious films, is the perfect kind of quiet-crazy because you really have no idea what he is going to do in any situation.

And really, the whole movie is like that. There are a lot of things that happen in the plot that are just completely out of nowhere and unexpected, and while some of these elements drag the story down a little bit, it's still a joy to watch and be surprised and entertained at every turn. There's a whole thing with the brothers' Auntie Nance that I can't get into because you just have to see it for yourself, plus a weird little bit of side action when Lindsay is chasing a hopped-up-on-acid Wes through a small, closed-down roadside attraction. Right after this, there's a scene that didn't really need to be included but is still great to watch because it involves a small appearance by John Jarratt.

If it's buckets of blood that you want, then 100 Bloody Acres has that as well. I mean, you'd be disappointed if it didn't, based on the title, right? Not every frame is drenched in blood, but there are plenty of individual gags that are just the right amount of graphic and awesome, while providing situational comedy at the same time. There are great moments that include a huge barrel of blood and gore, and of course the grinding machine that the brothers use to make their blood and bone fertilizer.

100 Bloody Acres is definitely my kind of film. It perfectly brings together the kind of smart, subtle humor that I find the most appealing, with the kind of crazy bloody gags that appease the true gorehound in me. There is a Tucker and Dale vs. Evil element to the Morgan brothers' relationship and to the story overall, so if you dug that movie, you'll probably dig 100 Bloody Acres as well. Don't let this little gem of a film pass you by!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Franchise Review: Hellraiser [IX]: Revelations (2011)

Hey, I did it! I made it through the Hellraiser franchise, and for the most part, it was pretty awesome. There were definitely some surprises along the way in this journey and I found some cool movies. This final installment, Hellraiser: Revelations, was most certainly NOT one of them. Damn, what a sad and sucky way to end the series. Except for the remake, which is probably coming.

Steven and Nico are two douchebag teenagers who run away from their perfect white picket fence lives to go be assholes in Tijuana. Their families don't know what happened to them until Steven shows up again one night at his parents' house while Nico's parents are visiting. Some dumb stuff happens and the new Pinhead sucks. That's all the description you need.

I know I said I was going to try to be a lot more positive about things from now on... but Hellraiser: Revelations is making that so hard. Actually, I can give the film a little bit of props for one thing. Some elements of the plot do resemble that of the first film - Nico is sought after by the Cenobites, he comes back by way of blood, there's some murders, and there's some skin-stealing. The movie is intercut between scenes of what happened to the boys in the Mexico and the present day situation with the parents and Steven's sister, so it does make for a nice revelation at the end. However, everything else about the presentation of this movie is pretty abysmal.

The script is just not good. I was getting annoyed just in the first couple of minutes when the boys - filming their little endeavor to Mexico with a camcorder like all douchebags seem to do - mention bow-legged hookers and knob-gobbling in their conversation. Great. The inaction by the parents, four adults who are just completely powerless without a phone or a car, also becomes a problem later on. There's the weird sexual tension that the sister Emma brings (especially a VERY awkward kissing scene), there's the guy who stands there like a moron while his friend is being attacked, there's the same guy who survives way too long after being shot in the gut, there's the way that the only thing the women know how to do is scream... Gah, this poor movie doesn't have a chance in hell of anybody taking it seriously or liking it.

The thing that I was the most worried about before starting Revelations was the fact that Doug Bradley chose not come back, and from the pictures I saw, the new Pinhead just looked wrong. Really, that was the least of mine and this movie's problems, but it still didn't help things in the least. The new Pinhead, played by Stephan Smith Collins, really threw me off simply because of his look. He has a way different face and body shape than Bradley, making him look more like a linebacker or something. He does do a good job at matching his voice and cadence of speech, I'll give the actor that. But the lines he is given to perform often sound so completely overdone and pretentious that he becomes, again, annoying rather than menacing.

Hellraiser: Revelations is a blessedly short hour and ten minutes long. They pack a lot of shit into that tiny runtime, but that's all it ever ends up being. With such a quick script and turnaround time for the movie being released, they obviously didn't put the effort in that this series deserved. Shame.

See you later, Hellraiser! Time to tackle another franchise!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: "Darkness Rising" by Brian Moreland

To any horror fan out there who says that there are no more original stories to be told: I know of a couple horror authors that will make you eat those words and choke on them. One of them is the incredibly original and unique Brian Moreland. I've now had the pleasure of reading several works by this great author and he is truly one of the best kept secrets in the horror world because of the amazingly original stories he comes up with and the unexpected surprises that appear in each one.

His latest novella is "Darkness Rising," and it was released by Samhain Publishing on September 1st (you can get the Kindle e-book version HERE). It is the story of Marty Weaver, a tortured and troubled soul who found a way to deal with his abusive and tragic past through the power of poetry, and through the friendship he develops with a girl that he falls in love with, Jennifer. But when Marty is visiting the lake that has great significance in his life, he runs afoul of three killers whose actions set in motion a series of events that bring back the horrible events from his childhood and set Marty on a path of revenge.

What I've said before and will now say again about Brian Moreland is that he has an incredible talent for creating some of the most imaginative and inventive stories I've ever read. All of his books and short stories start off in a similar fashion as other horror tales, but by the end, he has taken the idea to a whole other level that you didn't think was possible. With Darkness Rising, he takes the complex concepts of ghosts, trapped souls, and Purgatory and puts it into a context that is very meaningful for the characters he has created. Without giving too much of the story away, Marty is brought back to life through the power of his words and the energy he has given to an entity or demon in the lake. This force latches onto that deep, dark area in Marty's mind that is filled with rage, and it causes him to do terrible things. But the side of Marty that is still healing is there as well, and there is a wonderful power struggle that goes on over the course of the story where he feels justified in his revenge on some people, but still has moral quandaries over it.

The relationship between Marty and Jennifer is one that is believable and based on a nice understanding and truth between the two of them. They don't spend a whole lot of time together in the story, and most of their relationship is viewed by the reader through Marty's eyes. We still get it, but it would have been more meaningful to have a more poignant scene between these two characters to make it really hit home. Some other characters in Moreland's story are the trio of masked killers - Tara, Zane, and Seth - who you are first led to believe are just sadistic psychos who like killing, but later learn that they are involved in something much more sick and twisted. Interestingly enough, the leader of them is the girl, Tara, and I loved this shift in the typical gender roles you see in horror. Girls have sick minds, too, that's for sure. The sideplot involving these three characters is no doubt disturbing and messed up, but it was interesting too, and I liked that they were given more a little bit more characterization beyond just being psychopaths. It definitely doesn't make you like them any more, because you definitely shouldn't, but it was a great touch to add to the story.

Another thing Moreland is very good at is keeping horror fans like me happy with the inventive sequences of gore and violence that he comes up with. If you don't think you can cringe and be just as affected by stuff you read in books as much as what you see in movies, give Darkness Rising a read. There is some great stuff involving razor blades that really got to me, as well as a horrific and descriptive scene where a character is dragged to his death behind a car that makes your stomach turn just to picture it. There is far more blood and gore packed into this story than I can talk about here, so I'll just have to leave you to experience it on your own.

Darkness Rising is another wonderful output from the very talented Brian Moreland. He continues to come up with stories with amazing fantastical elements that still have meaning and truth for the characters experiencing them. He is one of the most unique voices in the genre today and you should all get your hands on a copy of one of his books today!

Check out Brian Moreland at Samhain Publishing here, and check out some of my other reviews of this author's awesome work right here on this blog.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Franchise Review: Hellraiser [VIII]: Hellworld (2005)

It's been a very sad week over here at The Girl Who Loves Horror, and in the horror community in general. As you all know, we suffered the loss of one of horror's truly great directors, Wes Craven. He was always my favorite and I am incredibly sad that we won't get to see anymore work that he might have created. I have been honoring him this week in my own way, and still continue to do so, but for now, let's get back to the Hellraiser franchise with this eighth installment, Hellraiser: Hellworld.

In this film, Hellworld is a computer game about the Hellraiser world that a group of friends are addicted to playing. One of them got too deep into the game and committed suicide, for which the rest of them blame themselves. Two years later, they gather again to attend a Hellworld party at a remote mansion with other gamers. The party is put on by the Host, and as the friends explore what the house has to offer, it becomes apparent that Hellraiser might not just be a game after all.

You know, I actually had a partial, fairly positive review for this movie written out before I finished watching it. I had some thoughts that I didn't want to forget so I would pause it and jot some things down, kind of enjoying what the movie was doing and the approach it was taking. Then I got to the reveal at the end and that all went out the window. Once again, we have a Hellraiser movie that wasn't originally written to be a Hellraiser movie and was just adapted into the world, and not very well. The other times I felt that approach worked and they made for some good sequels, but here, I am not digging it.

So the plot goes meta here, where in the world of the movie, the Hellraiser films themselves don't actually exist but the legend or myth of Lemarchand and his box do. BUT THE MOVIE IS NOT REALLY ABOUT HELLRAISER. Or Pinhead, or anything really relating to the franchise at all. Spoiler pretty much right off the bat: the whole thing was a set-up by the dead friend Adam's father to get revenge on the other kids for losing his son. This is a huge disappointment because, like I said, I was actually accepting the whole self-aware aspect that Hellworld had going for it. At this point in the franchise's history, the audience knows what's going on, so here they give that knowledge to the characters and allow them to play around in the world, winking at the audience and saying, "Hey, we're doing something a little different here." But that difference ends up being kind of an insult to the franchise, taking advantage of its fantastical nature to give credence to this dumb story of an angry father and his use of some hallucinatory drug to mess with these kids. And really, that kind of makes me angry and makes me feel very, very cheated.

There were a few things that seemed very out of place and which should have tipped me off to the fact that we were being played with here. As one character, Chelsea, actually points out, nobody opened the box. There wasn't even a box at all (until the stupid ending), so how could all these hellish dream sequences be taking place? Another clue: the first murder isn't even committed by Pinhead or the other Cenobites, but by the Host, Lance Henriksen as Adam's father. The next death does actually involve Pinhead, but it's done by him actually taking a medical blade and decapitating a guy. Pinhead has most assuredly killed a bunch of people by now, but he's never actually physically done it himself, so this definitely made me question the movie a bit more. The filmmakers do plenty of things to trick you into thinking that this is still a Hellraiser movie because of all the odd events that happen and the lack of explanation for them. Something just always feels wrong, though.

You hope that this is just because they have some grand reveal in mind for the end, and while they do, it's not at all what you expect or want it to be. I'm just not buying it, and I don't think many other people did, either. Hellworld is sort of fun to begin with - even though it feels like the rock 'n' roll, music video-like installment in the franchise - and I have to say that the deaths were nice and well executed, although not as elaborate as what we have come to love from Hellraiser. But the ending really makes the whole thing fall apart and lose my respect. Watch it for Lance Henriksen being Lance Henriksen. Because you sure as hell won't get what you want in terms of Doug Bradley or Pinhead. Thumbs down, Hellworld, sorry.

Actually, you should also watch it to see a chick roundhouse kick Lance Henriksen in the face. I don't know where the fuck that came from, but it was hilarious.