Tag Archives: horror

Saw VI (2009)


Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russel
Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenwriter: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton
Rating:
R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language.

This year, the torture-friendly franchise will come to its conclusion, and in eye-gouging 3D no less. Not that they would mind milking it for more money until the end of times, but it’s obvious that the box-office response of the sixth entry was cold enough to put the producers on guard regarding the future of further Saw sequels. Which is actually ironic, since “Saw 6” is probably the best of the sequels, and, yes, that isn’t saying very much.

This time, Jigsaw is big on politics. He single-handedly (or, several-handedly, if you count the expanding number of apprentices) takes on the US’ troublesome healthcare issue. And yes, there will be blood (understatement). The grizzly game focuses on insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), the typical corporate tool, who will have to pass a series of the late Jigsaw’s world-renowned-wicked-arm-or-leg-choice tests. Since William’s job was all about finding ways for the insurance company to NOT pay for people’s ultra-expensive and risky medical treatments, thus holding the choice of life or death in the flick of his pen, this time he will be faced with the ultimate moral judgement as he must make the same choices while dealing with the victims face-to-face as they are about to meet a horrible, gruesome death. There are still plenty of tie-ins with the rest of the franchise, complete with confusing flashbacks that will make no sense if you’ve missed all of the previous films, and of course the obligatory twist finale. If indeed you have missed all of the previous films and are trying to start with no. 6, then don’t. It’s the worst thing to do. Either start from the beginning, or thoroughly read the Wikipedia entries for all the films in the series and take notes.

Seemingly, not much has changed since the Saw-frenzy first started, so, you might wonder, why did I expand my score from the one-potato “Saw V” received to a full-blown, passing-grade, five potatoes ? “Saw V” was a self-indulgent mess, riddled with flashback sequences and terrible pacing. The series has forgotten all about cleverness after the first two-three films, so the only thing going for it is the entertainment provided by suspensful scenes where characters attempt to survive horrible traps by making equally horrible choices. Whilst “Saw V” dropped the ball in that regard, this one, while still sillly and low on credibility, amps up the tension. This time, the choices are harsh and the life-or-death situations are suspensful enough to make the film a pleasant affair (if you’re into this kind of sadistic stuff). Plus, having just one character facing the tests (William) puts us, the voyeurs, in the position to sympathize with him and be a part of the ride. Throw in Detective Hoffman’s attempts to keep his identity hidden while William runs the maze of horrors, the often surprisingly satirical social commentary, and the short running time and you have the makings of a fun thriller. The film is directed by the man who edited all the other Saws, which means someone else was assigned to handle the editing, and it feels like the editing on this one is less of a jumbled mess. Less prone to induce headaches anyway.

The acting is still rough around the edges, though it’s really not that big of an issue anymore. Everybody overacts or underacts, with the surprising exception of Peter Outerbridge’s simple, balanced performance, neither over nor under the top. Tobin Bell is still pitch-perfect as Jigsaw, even though he’s just there for flashbacks.

So, it’s better than II, III, IV, V and probably better than 3D will be. But it’s too little, too late. Even if they’re planning some sort of reboot or spin-off for next year, or the year after that, they’ve pretty much tortured this franchise to death.

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The Crazies (2010)


Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenwriter: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Rating: R for bloody violence and language

“The Crazies” is a remake of the George A. Romero horror classic of the same name. Wait, let me rephrase that to better suit the situation. “The Crazies” is yet another one of those remakes based on an already famous horror film. I can’t imagine how these remakes keep getting green-lit. I mean, the fanbase can’t be that tempting for producers to drool over the posibility of huge profits. And if it’s not the money, what is it about these ideas that drive them towards unoriginal rehashes ? Remake hate aside though, “The Crazies” isn’t all that bad aside from genre familiarity.

The overall story can be immediately and shortly summed up as follows: a small american town is plagued by an epidemic of madness, the army places the town and its inhabitants under lockdown, but a handful of survivors try to make their way out of the city after they realise the army has no intention to allow them to leave, since the virus causing all the mayhem is their doing. This adventure from hell is focused on the local sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) who is separated by the army from his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), and sneaks back into town to rescue her, picking up other survivors on the way and fighting their way out of town.

There’s a good side and a bad side to this movie. The good side is that it’s an effectivily chilling horror flick, well directed, decently written, tense and paranoid, violent to satisfy gore-hounds, but not enough to turn off casual audiences. The bad side is that there isn’t a single thing that hasn’t been done before, both better and worse. This is your tipical survival horror. I was surprised to find that the “crazies” don’t even make much of an impression. They’re basically zombies. They don’t eat flesh, but they kill in brutal, insane ways. The make-up is a little overdone and distracting. Something a little more subtle would have helped fuel a deeper sense of paranoia. The soldiers become the real villains of the story about half-way through. They are under orders to kill everyone, infected or not, so the survivors have to hide from both the infected and the soldiers, which is a nice touch (credit to the original film).

Much of the movie’s appeal comes from the paranoid vibe. Who is crazy and who isn’t. Are the infected any different from the “crazies” we already have among us. How can you tell if the person standing next to you carries the virus or is simply crazy. That, I guess, is part of the ‘70s paranoid thriller vibe that translates pretty well today, but somehow, it’s pretty clear the movie is more interested in the potential for carnage, allowing breaths of subliminal messages to appear only briefly. You simply go through the motions of a ride, nothing more.

In the end, it’s just another remake. It’s slightly more clever than the average remake (especially the Michael Bay-produced ones), but it won’t make any more memorable. It looks and feels polished, and I can’t imagine a director doing a better job with this story. I think they could have done better by finding a different story than the original’s. I mean the foundation is there, why not build something different, instead of the same story with different props. And this is only one of the countless remakes still to come.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)


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9

Starring : Alison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Lorna Raver
Director : Sam Raimi
Screenwriter : Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
Rating : PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language.

A lot of people have been eagerly awaiting the day when Sam Raimi would leave Spiderman behind and go back to his horror roots. And yes, that day has come. ”Drag Me to Hell” is in a way the spiritual sequel to his “Evil Dead” series, and a return to full form for the master of demon trouble. Definetly a good thing after his atrocious mess of a movie, “Spiderman 3”.

The victim of evil forces this time is a young woman, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). She’s a loan officer at a Los Angeles bank and very close to getting a promotion, if, as her boss (David Paymer) puts it, she can prove she’s ready to make some tough decisions. One of those tough decisions walks through the door that very day in the form of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old gispy woman who needs an extension on her mortgage. This is just the opportunity Christine needs to prove herself. She denies her the extension. Mrs. Ganush begins to beg on her kness, Christine calls security and the old woman feels she’s been humiliated. Next thing Christine knows, she’s being attacked in the underground parking lot by the now demonic incarnation of the old woman, who lays a curse on her. The curse is one of terrible consequence, as Christine finds out from Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a fortune teller : the demon Lamia will toy with her for 3 days, and then will drag her to hell where she will enjoy the usual eternal torment, unless she can find a way to break the curse. Bummer for Christine.

This is the perfect set up for Raimi to go to town on Christine. The film is relentless in its scares, and it’s one nightmarish scene after another. The film wasn’t even rated R (though there is an Unrated version out there as usual), but it still packs a punch, to Raimi’s credit without any gore, but some really disturbingly disgusting moments that will make you squirm in your favourite chair. There are unsettling moments that play with the classic cliches of demon attacks, providing scares that seem to come out of nowhere. You can use the fingers on one hand to count the quiet, demon-free moments in this 99-minute scream-fest. But it’s also very tongue-in-cheek, so there’s a feeling of relief at times, even comic-relief, but then it gets all spooky again and you don’t feel like laughing anymore…that is until a possessed man starts dancing in mid-air.

The effects are really cool-looking and Raimi’s signature camera-work adds a lot of frantic edginess to the action. The CGI sometimes ruins the disgusting bits, but that won’t make much of a difference (it might even be a relief). You never actually see the demon in full FX. It always finds ways to twist Christine’s world to the point of driving her insane, so there’s never a sense of CGI overpowering the atmosphere. And did I mention there’s no gore ?

The story focuses a lot on Christine, so we never get too much insight on the other characters. The most interesting of the is her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), who is unusually supportive of her, even though he doesn’t believe in demons. What does he know, right ? But this is esentially a showdown between the leading lady and the evil spirit, much in the same way that “Evil Dead” was about Bruce Campbell facing off with the forces of darkness. It’s not about ensemble work, so don’t expect any solid or notable supporting characters. Alison Lohman does stand up to the challenge wonderfully in keeping herself convincing not just as the nice girl, but especially as the paranoid victim of a relentless demon. She’s likable, determined and surprisingly resilient, just what the horror audience demands from a heroine. Her boss demanded of her to be tough and the irony of her character is that, by the end of it all, she’ll be making all kinds of hellish decisions.

“Drag Me to Hell” is a deliciously wicked horror, packed with scares and action. If you’ve been a fan of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, or maybe “The Exorcist”, or you’re just looking for a thrill ride, then this is the film for you.

Trick ‘r Treat (2008)


trick-r-treat-1

9

Starring : Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Leslie Bibb
Director/Writer: Michael Dougherty
Rating : R for horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language.

Here’s the perfect example of an overlooked gem. This film had a real tough time making its way into the hands of the public. Though it was supposed to be released on Halloween  2007, Warner Bros decided to withdraw it and reschedule it. Two years had passed and still no release date, so the studios decided to dump it as a direct-to-DVD release. And since Halloween was just a couple of days ago, this reviewer decided to get himself into the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve.

The plot interweaves four separate stories that take place on Halloween night, in a tight narrative similar to “Pulp Fiction”. There is the murderous principal Wilkins who enjoys Halloween perhaps a bit too much, five teenagers who bring an homage to the victims of what is known as the “School Bus Massacre”, Laurie, a 22-year old virgin dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, on a mission to find boys, and Mr. Kreeg, the old man that hates Halloween in a very “Scrooge” kind of way, and is about to get a close encounter of the painful kind with the Halloween spirit. I will not go to more detail about the plot, since A) there’s too much fun to be had from discovering the story while watching the film, and B) there are complete and very spoilerish synopsises on Wikipedia or IMDb.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this film ? Well, probably because the horror genre is so hopelessly taken with torture porn (see “Saw”) nowadays that it’s refreshing to be confronted with such a charmingly twisted and original entry in the genre. It’s a nostalgic look on how we used to be scared when listening to boogeyman stories. A return to basics. It’s about those sleeping-with-the-light-on-and-making-sure-the-closet-door-is-closed kind of frights that fill the darker side of our imagination. The film is not particularly scary (although, for some, I might not be a reliable source on this), but builds plenty of suspense and a constant atmosphere of dread. There is some gore, so squeamish types beware, but carnage is not the main focus here. It’s also very reliant on practical FX which I personally thought was a very nice touch, so no CGI here, thank god.

The story is pure Halloween love affair. As I understand, Michael Dougherty already made an animated Halloween short in 1996 called “Season’s Greetings”, so the man was just burning to get this one out. All four stories will be a familiar taste to fans of creepy TV show like “Tales from the Crypt”, but able writing and excellent visual handling help freshen up the standard material with style. Some might even identify a slight comic-bookish approach in the narrative. The one thing that I felt was missing was witty dialogue, but it’s not something you’ll necessarily miss. It’s a lot of fun to watch the stories unfold and tie-in into each other, making the chronology of events pretty jumbled but kept in order by familiar character run-ins so there’s no confusion. Also, the short length keeps the pacing running smoothly without any boring moments that might encourage a closer look at possible plot holes.

Overall “Trick ’r Treat” is definetly more treat than tricks. Everything is in place for a new Halloween classic, and there’s a good chance that not only fans of the genre will find it worth watching. So, Amelie, I’m saving money for you electricity bill, ‘cause you have to see this one.

The Skeptic (2009)


01skeptic_6006Starring: Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, Zoe Saldana, Edward Herrmann, Andrea Roth, Robert Prosky, Bruce Altman, LJ Foley
Director: Tennyson Bardwell
Screenwriter: Tennyson Bardwell

Inspired by last week’s great reviews I decided to watch more horror movies in spite of being a total pansy and as I started with “Orphan” – because of which I may start billing Skellington for all the electricity I’m wasting keeping the lights on at night, I continued with “The Skeptic”, given to me by the very sweet and considerate little monster that is my sister. I honestly don’t think there will be a third one; I am just not cut out for this.

“The Skeptic” tells the story of Bryan Becket, played by Tim Daly, who decides to move in his late aunt’s house as a warning to his wife who wants him more emotionally attached. He is very cold, calm and collected, a control freak that hates human bonding. His only friend and his wife both get the jerk treatment, as his calculating lawyer ways leaving no room for emotional blackmail and psychobabble.  That was at the beginning. But soon after he moves he starts to experience a series of inexplicable events. A supermodel psychic join him in his quest to find out what exactly I causing all the apparent supernatural phenomena that makes him question everything he believes in (or doesn’t believe in). He is, of course, The Skeptic.

Tim Daly (the only other thing I’ve seen him in is the TV show “Private Practice”, where I was frankly not impressed with his work, as I thought he was bland, had the mobility of a block of wood and the script tried too hard to make him kind and loving by showing cheesy lines down my throat) grows on me in this movie that requires from its main lead an intentional lack of expression and emotion. And by the end of it, I saw many scenes beautifully acted and a potential for more. It came as a shock to me, but he is very good in this role and about two potatoes out of these 6 are all his. His wife is Robin (Andrea Roth), and she is a little bit too preoccupied to be pretty and blonde for my taste. And the believer, played by Zoe Saldana, started out by being incredibly annoying, but she managed to integrate herself into the story and thus she became useful, but not irreplaceable.

The best actor in this movie is the house. Remember Norman Bates’ mother’s house? Well, this one is at the same level of emoting creepy vibes, only without the benefits of black and white cinematography; I don’t know if they built it or they actually used an existing one, but if someone lives there in real life, then in spite of the multitude of rooms and great architecture, I just cannot imagine any place I would want to be less. It is one of those houses that cannot stop screaming “haunted” even when in broad daylight. The director does a good job focusing on the strong cast, the close ups and tight frames make you afraid of what might happen outside the shot, in the background or in the eyesight of the respective character. These are the good.

The bad? The script is average bordering on nauseating, and the scare tactics are a little overused and clichéd. Some moments make you scream: “Enough already, stop trying to wedge in every leftover horror prop known to man!”, others just remind you of better movies where you saw that exact scene/take/framing. It is scary, yes, and its goal is thus achieved, but it is also completely unoriginal and I am under the impression that it somehow fails to impress the genre fans (which I am not, so it is just a supposition based on the horrible reviews, i.e. 8% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), who have more comparison material. The core story is good, but somehow not meaty enough to sustain an hour and a half of plot development. It could have been worse, but it also had the potential to be much, much better.

This movie is a decent slasher flick. It never amazes, never disappoints, it’s sometimes frightening, sometimes boring, it rests heavily on the actors’ shoulders and it fails at the creativity chapter, but for a night out with friends it will do just fine. Written in the ‘80s, it would have been a hit then, but it has clearly not aged well, as it is not making any waves now.

Orphan (2009)


"Orphan" 0161.CR2

9

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrmanm, Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga
Director: Jaumet Collet-Serra
Screenwriter: David Johnson
Rating : R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language.

As soon as you see the trailer for “Orphan”, it’s pretty easy to write it off as standard slasher fare thriller, but surprisingly this is one of the few times when you’d be wrong. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax” , the silly 2005 remake) and writer David Johnson manage to break out a different kind of evil kid thriller, based on some of the classic cliches, yet remarkably original.

The orphan in the title is Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a bright, mysterious 9-year-old russian girl, adopted by Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard), a young couple still trying to deal with the tragedy of their stillborn daughter. Kate and John already have two other children, a boy, Daniel and a deaf-mute little girl, Max. It might seems strange that the two would feel the need to adopt another child (other than it being a reason to trigger the plot), but it could be argued that perhaps they needed to fill the void left after losing their baby, sort of undo the unfortunate event. However, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Esther is not all she seems to be and her inclusion in the family will prove to be a fatal mistake for the Colemans.

In all appearances, Esther is a poster child for good behaviour. She’s polite, well-mannered and has an overall “old-school” charm about her. All this is just for show unfortunately, as there is a far darker side of her that she hides with surprising ability. In fact, you could swear she’s just too mature for her age (and with good reason). In one scene, she displays advanced knowledge of sex and the usage of the F-word in that particular context, which is what tips Kate off that there may be more to Esther than meets the eye. Well, that and the fact that she broke a classmate’s leg by pushing her down a playground slide.

Something’s not quite right with Esther. On the other hand, something’s not quite right with the Colemans either. Kate struggles with alcohol addiction and John is trying to earn back Kate’s trust after having an affair some years in the past. The family is in a fragile state, with issues left in the backstages of their lives. But Esther seems more than keen to play with these issues, speculating their weakenesses, turning them against each other. She even turns their children on her side by means of aggressive intimidation. Now Kate slowly grasps Esther’s intentions, but who’s going to believe her ? She’s the one currently on therapy. Every time she tries to talk to her husband, he treats her like a mental case. By the time everyone realises what’s going on, it’s too late.

What makes “Orphan” so different from so many other thrillers ? First of all, its willingness to subject children to unspeakable on-screen perils. I mean, I don’t think I can name another film where grade school kids are treated this brutally. It’s unflinching in its display of preteen violence, which makes it all the more shocking. Then, there’s the great performance by Isabelle Fuhrman. According to IMDb.com she was 10 at the time (she turned 11 while filming), and it’s shocking to see her turn from sweet kid to cold-blooded manipulative homicidal girl. It’s not a simple task for a 10-year-old to play a psychotic killer convincingly, but she does it. Which is not to say her co-stars don’t do a great job. Vera Farmiga is wonderfull, turning a classic character type into a solid, convincing lead, powerfull enough to hold the film all by herself. Peter Saarsgard isn’t given much to do except act in defiance to his wife’s complaints, all the while being pleasant and mild mannered. He’s not a bad guy, it’s just that he seems too eager to trust Esther rather than his wife. He’s been the one with the guilty conscience up until now, so he probably feels it’s just the right time to shift the blame game on his wife. Lastly, I have to say I was surprised at the how well the script plays the psychological aspects of the broken family. It’s not terribly deep, but it just feels like it’s hitting all the right notes, despite having some of the good ol’ horror flick scare tactics.

There’s not a moment in the film where you can dismiss the plot as dumb, even when the twist towards the end turns the whole story on its head. It has that strength, to take hold of the audience and not let go until the credits start rolling. A solid cast and spine-tingling moments contribute fully to its strength, so don’t miss this one.

Black Christmas (1974)


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8

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin
Director: Bob Clark
Screenwriter: Roy Moore
Rating : R

The slasher genre is probably one of the most popoular in the world for over 30 years now. The first of its kind was Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, though some would point out “Thirteen Women” (1932). Those were the precedents that gave birth to a world-wide phenomenon, the film that portrays the criminal endevours of a psychopathic killer. In time, the genre has suffered mutations, reaching out to such outlandish genres as Science Fiction, draining it of even the last molecule of originality. Freddie Kruger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Hannibal Lecter, Leatherface, Chucky, Jigsaw are but a few of the names in the pantheon of horror. Among the films that set the rules straight where the 1974 classics “The Chainsaw Massacre” and “Black Christmas”. But it wasn’t until the box-office success of 1978’s “Halloween” that really helped the genre break out into the mainstream.

“Black Christmas” can safely be called a standard slasher. A sorority houe in Canada is terrorised by psychopath who makes obscene phone calls. Hidden in the attic of the house, he quickly makes the transition from harmless calls, to brutal executions, taking the girls out one by one, during the Christmas holiday.

The cast is largely unknown except for Olivia Hussey (Maria from “Jesus of Nazareth”) and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane from the original “Superman”). But, the true star is the unseen killer. There’s plenty of carnage going around but don’t expect any gore. The killer blows are mostly off-screen, or visually stylised to conceal any explicitness. The violence is reduced to a level of suggestion rather than the more modern showcasing of blood and guts (see “Saw”), with more efficiency in terms of suspense.

The moments that rely on atmposphere and tension work well and are interesting enough, even if everything feels just a little bit dated and too predictable (only because we’ve seen this done over and over again in countless clones). For example, there’s a scene where the police is trying to trace the call. Not these are the 70s, so don’t imagine any kind of hi-tech tracking gear. No, there’s this cop waiting at the phone company for the call. When the call does come, he has to run around in a big room full of ceiling-high mechanical machines to see which one connected the call. Obviously he doesn’t get it the first time around. Or the second. It’s all about how fast he can get to the right machine in order to find out the address where the call came from. This generates loads of tension, but it’s also funny compared to all this new slick technology on display in modern films.

Obviously, it’s no Oscar contender. Slasher flicks belong to a league of their own that does not require critical acclaim. In a way, they appeal to our darker side, which makes us tolerate these sinister stories. The quality level is subjective, depending on our likes or dislikes regarding the genre. In fact, the only reason why this gets a high poatato score, is because it was an original take on a subject that would never stop being remade.