Monday, May 31, 2010

Tell Tale - 2/5

Supposedly a modern take on Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" story, "Tell Tale" was one of those thrillers that was hyped up because the Scott brothers (Ridley and Tony) were producing it. Of course, throw Poe and the Scrott brothers together and it sounds like it might be interesting. Too bad "Tell Tale" runs a tall tale that essentially never comes close to even touching on Poe's story nor does it do anything all that original as a film. Its predictable, low energy, and rather boring. Not quite what I was expecting.

Terry has so much to live for. Not with his life, but with his daughter's. She needs him. Lucky for him, he finally got that heart transplant he so desperately needed and now things are looking up. He seems completely healthy, his daughter and him are closer than ever, and he has a new relationship with his daughter's docter, Elizabeth. Not all heart's beat to the same drum though and his new heart starts to feed him new emotions and new memories driving him to discover that its original owner may have been murdered in a seemingly larger picture than he's prepared for. Throw your bleeding hearts our for Terry cause what he's going to discover is going to make his life much harder than it was.

I wish this film was more original. Or perhaps stayed truer to the short story of Poe's it was based on. It hardly ever seems even parallel to the story of which it is named after, and in the end "Tell Tale" is your pretty average straight up thriller. It desperately tries to create a connection with its lead to the audience that only works in moments (Josh Lucas does a pretty solid job though and can sell a rather forced character) and its story all tries to build that slow burn of tension and confusion. It never really works either as it comes off as more boring than intriguing with an overall concept and story that has been done to death in the Thriller and Horror genres. It does retain a fairly classy air to it that refuses to submit to its rather supernatural flair that easily could have gone cheesy. Solid acting throughout helps the film from floundering too much in its own plot but a makeshift and straight on take of directing and its own attempts at digging into gray area morality tend to come off as too cliche.

The last act of the film does tend to (finally) pick up the pace a bit and give us far more suspense and tension than the rest of the film could have ever done. The film is worth watching for the last act (and a nice final twist to the tale at the end was nice) but its a tough two thirds to get through to get a pay off that was barely worth it.

"Tell Tale" tried so hard to be original and classy but it rarely accomplishes either in its run time. Its false indicating title is rather disappointing to Poe fans (like myself) and this run of the mill Thriller is only worth a rental at best.

BONUS RANT: The one time they mention Poe's story at all is in a brief quip from a surgeon towards the end of the film. That's it?! That's all you could have gotten in there?! You call the film "Tell Tale" and even credit Poe with the story its 'based' on, but its not even a modernized telling of tale. It has a man starting to go nuts over a beating heart. Oh lord. They should have titled it something different cause it created all kinds of expectations that the film could have never met. Its a great title...just not for this movie. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning - 2/5

Piranha Part Two has the dubious reputation today of being academy award winning director James Cameron's feature film debut. He may want you to believe that The Terminator was his first film but Piranha Part Two beat The Terminator out by three years. I have to hand it to the Piranha series, it sure did give interesting debuts for some great directors. Despite having Cameron at the helm Piranha Part Two lacks the same B-movie magic of its predecessor despite it's ridiculous concept of, get this, flying piranha! I don't put the full blame on Cameron for not making this an "A" of a "B" movie as I believe, from my research, that a lot of the films failure is also due to producer interference. The original Piranha was produced by the American rip-off king Roger Corman who gave director Joe Dante complete creative control. This sequel however is produced by Italian rip-off king Ovidio G. Assonitis, the same man who gave us such "classics" as "Beyond the Door" and his own Jaws rip-off "Tentacles." From what I have read he was a hellacious producer to work for and took a lot of the creative control from Cameron. Having Roger Corman as the producer of a film can mean a schlocky good time but having Ovideo as a producer of film usually means a warning to potential viewers.

The film opens with two lovers diving near a ship wreckage and in the heat of passion they become fish food. We are then given nice little title sequence with cool 80's visual graphics and a catchy score. We are then introduced to our main character Anne Kimbrough, a diving instructor who has what is my opinion an awkwardly close relationship with her son. It seems the lovers who were killed in the beginning of the film were part of her diving class. In comes a potential love interest for her (and a jealous rage grows in her ex-husband Lance Henrickson, the local police chief) who is later revealed to be a government scientist who is investigating a lost canister of piranha eggs. In the mean time the film has a few flying piranha attacks to keep the audience from falling asleep. Interestingly enough there is a piranha sequence that is very reminiscent of the chesterburster in Alien that has a piranha leap out of a cadaver to bite a innocent bystander on the neck. A premonition of James Cameron to direct Aliens.... only the Cinema Gods know! Later a local resort owner, in good Jaws rip-off fashion, ignores the warnings and in turn many of his guest become flying piranha food.

James Cameron tries hard but he can't keep this ship-wreck of a sequel afloat. Knowing the audience can't take the plot of flying piranha seriously he tries to inject some humor into the film and sadly, for lack of a better word, the humor is just comes out stupid. He tries to counterbalance the bad script by making characters that actually seem human and even gets the audience to care for them a bit. By doing this he also gets some solid performances by our lead actors, especially Lance Henrickson. Overall though the film comes out as an awkward combination of seriousness and humor, no doubt trying to emulate the first Piranha film, but James Cameron is unable to pull this combination off successfully. The connection to the first Piranha film is also flimsy at best and the events of the first film are briefly mentioned in dialogue. Though the ending of the first film toyed with the fact the Piranha got to the ocean, the filmmakers here decide to make these piranha a completely different batch accidentally released.

On the plus side the film is pretty graphic and has some good gore effects thanks to Giannetto De Rossi, the man behind some of Italy's most gory films including Zombie, The Beyond, and City of the Living Dead. Though not near as bloody as those, his make-up effects are impressive. Sadly the rest of the effects are not and the flying piranha on string will not convince the audience that fish can fly. The awful miniature effects are also typical with Ovidio G. Assonitis productions.

Overall this is a sequel that misses the mark. It tries to emulate the first film with mixing humor and seriousness but Cameron proves he is uncomfortable handling this format and that it should be left to the master Joe Dante. Despite being a B-movie the plot about flying piranha is just too ridiculous for audiences to take seriously despite Cameron trying to counter balance it with good performances. Piranha Part Two is now resorted to only being a curiosity piece for fans of James Cameron to see how the director got his start. In the words of James Cameron, this is absolutely the best film about flying piranha ever made. I do have to say I would rather watch this B-movie drivel again any day over re-watching his overblown Avatar!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Piranha (1978) - 3.5/5

Due to the Piranha remake coming out this summer I received a message from my brother asking if I owned the original so he could see it. Sadly I didn't anymore and this bothered me as I consider myself the go to guy for the older horror films. I owned the New Concord DVD years ago but ended up selling the damn thing for nearly $50 when it went out of print. Thanks to the film being re-released soon I was able to pick up the old New Concorde edition I owned on eBay for pennies. Now my DVD collection finally feels more complete that I know own Piranha yet again and recently sat down with my wife to revisit some memories. All I can say is that I forgot how fun Piranha really was.

The plot itself is your basic B-movie nature gone bad rip-off that filled theaters after the success of Jaws. However the film rises above this label thanks to director Joe Dante to become an "A" of a "B" movie. It's amazing it turned out as good as it did considering the fun, yet silly plot and for the fact it was produced by Roger Corman who was mostly known for churning out fun, yet schlockingly bad monster films. The plot opens with two young lovers that break into an area that has fences with attention grabbing signs that read "Warning Keep Out" only to take a swim in what looks like the nastiest, dirtiest looking pool imaginable. Thanks to the title of the film we know that these young lovers are about to become fish food. A young, smart mouthed investigator is hired to find out where they disappeared to and with the help of a burnt out drunk living nearby, she tracks them down to that government testing facility with the pool of monsters. Unwittingly they drain the pool and thanks to our scientist played by Kevin McCarthy, they find out they released thousands of genetically mutated piranha into the mountain river system. Now it's a race against time to warn potential victims and to rescue our drunk's daughter before they all get sliced and diced by the razor sharp teeth of the PIRANHA! Throw in some government agents trying to cover up the top secret project and you are guaranteed wonderful B-movie time.

The aspects that make this film rise above other such films in the genre is the sharp writing of John Sayles (The Howling, Alligator) and the sure-handed directing of novice Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins). John Sayles' script really fleshes out the characters (all the more the Piranha to eat!) making them seem more human and more quirky than other characters in such films. Dante's directing also makes the film rise above the silly plot by having the characters take the situation seriously yet also injecting plenty of sardonic humor that he would perfect in The Howling. He also fills the film with little in-jokes seen with props and images on television screens (this would also be seen in later, more mainstream Joe Dante films). An example of this is a cop reading a newspaper which headline reads "Piranha leave little clues." I love when directors put this little extra work into films. Perhaps teh funniest in-joke is at the beginning when our investigator starts out playing a Jaws arcade game. Nothing like advertising right up front what film your ripping off! The film, for its time, is also pretty bloody and violent as we are shown victims whose legs are eaten down to the bone. The filmmakers also pull no punches and even break the taboo rule of killing children by having the pack of piranha attack a girls summer camp. By today's standards this is tame but back in 1978 this film was pretty graphic.

The one aspect about the film that brings it down for me is that the ending of the film becomes a little too much of a Jaws rip-off for my taste. We have large water resort that is owned by a stubborn Texan (cult actor Dick Miller) who refuses to believe any of the warnings just like the mayor in Jaws. Of course it ends up a mega bloodbath.

Overall I really enjoyed Piranha and the filmmakers made the film rise above it's typical B-movie status with good writing and directing. The plot may be nothing more than a Jaws rip-off (probably the best Jaws rip-off ever I might add) but B-movie fans will love the actors and graphic nature of the film (70's style). This is a B-movie I highly recommend.

Bonus Rant (Spoiler): I actually thought it was interesting how our hero beat the Piranha by killing them with pollution. Pollution coming to save us for once... that's a really unique concept. However I did find it a stretch that the control room for the sewage plant was underwater. You think the engineers would build an important room to, I don't know, a sewage treatment plant someplace that wouldn't get flooded!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans - 3.5/5

With the ridiculous amounts of praise that this film, "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans" (its ludicrous to even call the film that so I'll just call it "Port Of Call New Orleans" since its precursor makes little sense as a sequel or remake to the original "Bad Lieutenant") has made some waves as a film both gritty and intense. Strangely enough, although I did find that it was gritty and pleasantly bleak, I rarely found it as intense or as intriguing as most others did. This film is good, but its not the hype machine that it was made out to be.

Nic Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a cop that's, you know, a little hooked on coke (he got there through some back problems as if that makes it seem right at some point) and he is in quite a bit of trouble. He owes a lot of money to his bookie, the case he is on finding the killers of a five man execution is going to shit, and his prostitute girlfriend is getting in with some bad customers. Its not looking so hot for poor Terence. In fact, its building to quite the shit storm for him.

So lets start with the good. "Port Of Call New Orleans" is realistic and gritty to the end. It might as well have been made in 1988 with its dark gloomy outlook on society, the psyche, and the general state of morality of the characters and the city of New Orleans. Its a wonderfully bleak atmosphere that's bound to get one sucked right into its darkness. Some great performances from all involved (even Nic Cage whom I'm not even all that fond of) make this film somewhat of a subtle and disturbing watch.

Now lets get to the bad. Alright, perhaps bad is not the word to use. But the confusing elements of "Port Of Call New Orleans". For a film that is so realistic I found it odd that they incorporated some coke induced hallucination moments. Although the first time that Terence sees the iguanas that disturb him so much has a dark comedic element to it, it still feels a bit out of place. And the 'dancing soul' scene really struck an odd cord. And for a film so bleak and dark, its ends on a pretty positive note, something that seems also out of place although that does have a nice tied together feeling that not everything has to end as shitty as they get. It still felt a little out of place. It was nice that the film tried to give even more weight to its rather thin plot (the film seems more concerned with character study rather than plot progression).

"Port Of Call New Orleans" was a pretty neat and interesting watch with its darkness and its movement through a torn city, but at times it felt a bit scatter shot and not the beastly film that it was hyped to be. It's nice to see Nic Cage do something worth watching even if his personal life has tanked as of lately. This is a film thats worth the rental but definitely not for everyone.

BONUS RANT: This film has some pretty awesome actors in it. Brad Douriff, Xhibit, and Val Kilmer all make some nice appearances here...BUT...I think that many of them were severely underused. These guys all can be amazing actors and none of them truly get to strut their stuff here. It seems to be Nic Cage's film (character study I guess) and it mostly stays that way. How can you tame Val Kilmer?! You bastards!!

BONUS RANT PART II: Nic Cage seriously needs to do something else with his hair. I found more often than not I couldn't help but stare at it like some sort of half skinned possum that lives on his scalp. So distracting from his rather solid acting in the film. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spider-Man - 3.5/5

With the success of "X-Men" in 2000 towards a mainstream audience, it was only going to be time that Hollywood realized that comic book movies could actually be profitable. So why not bring to the big screen one of the most beloved Marvel heroes that's never seen the silver screen...Spider-Man. Of course, this film could have easily spelled disaster at any time but luckily with a smart director, fairly strong cast, and a story that remains (in essence not necessarily in the details) to the comic "Spider-Man" overcomes a lot of obstacles to create a fairly efficient and effective film.

Peter Parker is less than your average high school student. He is amazingly smart, especially at science, but he is somewhat of an awkward kid whom can't stand up for himself or seem to impress the girl of his dreams...fellow classmate Mary Jane. That is until a radioactive spider bites him and he finds himself with a slew of new powers - spider like powers. Naturally, as the way the world works in comics, Peter's responsibility is tested when Norman Osborn goes crazy and takes on a new personality as a vile villain, the Green Goblin.

It's hard to express how surprised I was at how good this film actually came out. Spider-Man is a tough story to make into a semi-serious film, but with some sharp writing and a director with some serious vision it comes off nicely. It never takes it self too seriously yet is able to give enough of the darker sides of the story to give it weight. It also has a pretty solid cast. Tobey Maguire might have been some of the best casting as Parker and of course Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn couldn't be any better either. The supporting cast is a little more hit or miss, James Franco as Osborn's son is solid as is J.K. Simmons as Parker's boss. My only issue with "Spider-Man" casting is Kirsten Dunst whom has never tickled my fancy on screen (sans her stellar work in "Interview With The Vampire") and she doesn't here either.

If I had any huge major complaints about "Spider-Man" there would be two. Firstly, there is a shit ton of CGI for the film. Although with the scope of the film and the concept, it would have been hard to do without it (perhaps that is why it has taken so long for the web slinger to hit the big screen) but it would have been nice to see it at least hindered a bit. Secondly, this film definitely feels watered down when it comes to the visual and directorial quirkiness of Sam Raimi. It still has some of its moments (Peter trying to leap across buildings his first few times) that spoke of Raimi's style, but overall it definitely feels like it was a bit more watered down for the general audience. As a massive Raimi fan, that sort of irks me.

"Spider-Man" is quite the trip though, giving the comic enough of a brush over to make it its own film. Its sleek and quick moving and balances the humor and seriousness nicely. Although its not the best comic book movies I have ever seen, it can hold its own weight nicely.

BONUS RANT: I hate, hate, hate the title sequence for this film. Its a knock off of a ton of other comic book movies and Danny Elfman ALWAYS DOES THE SAME INTRO SCORE FOR THESE MOVIES. Luckily the rest of the film it doesn't really follow the cliche that is this intro. Too bad its not a great way to start the film.

Ringu 0: Birthday - 2.5/5

It was bound to happen and as you can tell by the inventive title Ringu 0 that this fourth entry into the Ringu franchise is a prequel to the original Ringu. There was so much back story to the curse of Sadako that the Ringu franchise was a prime candidate for prequel status. Like I've mentioned in reviews before I'm not a whole hearted fan of prequels, despite their popularity, due to the fact they tell a story that's main elements have already been told in previous films and that not much is left up to surprise. Like I expected Ringo 0 comes out completely predictable.

This entry tells the story how Sadako became the vengeful spirit she was in the previous films. Right away the film has definite different look compared to the other entries. Those films go for a sharp, polished look where the filmmakers here decide to go for a grainy, washed out look with some dirty close-ups. I believe this is the way filmmakers tried to make the fill look older compared to Ringu as it takes place 30 some odd years before those events. In any case I like the new look as it gave the franchise something different to look at. The film has our vengeful ghost Sadako pre-death, looking cute as a button and attending some theater college. She of course is very odd and quiet and the other students don't take too kindly to her. One day the lead actress of the play dies suddenly so the director picks Sadako to take her place. A nosy reporter does some investigating and discovers that Sadako has some special ESP powers and her, along with the theater crowd, decide to kill Sadako. Since you've already seen Ringu and Ringu 2 (and god forbid Rasen), then you already know how this film is going to end.

The whole film I got flashes of Carrie going through my head. You have the girl that doesn't fit in, a young boy that falls in love with her despite her awkwardness, and a vengeful psychotic parent. Substitute the prom for a play on opening night and you have the Japanese version of Carrie. Most of the film takes place in a darkly lit theater house so don't expect many interesting locations. The cast for the most part, especially Yukie Nakama as Sadako, are very good and keep that rather humdrum predicable story from becoming boring. Though there is one plot element that tends to bug me. It seems all these Ringu sequels have to have a least one plot element that becomes a thorn in my side. Towards the end of the film they talk about how Sadako has an alter ego that physically splits from her and they become two entities. I found that plot element ridiculous and the story would have benefited better without it. But then again it seems the writers of these films always have to throw in at least one ridiculous story element as if they were trying to drive me mad on purpose!

Fans of the franchise might be disappointed as this really isn't a ghost story and we only see Sadako in her vengeful state for a short period of time at the climax of the film. The plot again is derivative of Carrie and it is extremely predicable, mostly because we know what the outcome is going to be thanks to this being a prequel. Despite this the cast give the film their all filling it with good performances and director Norio Tsuruta does his best to keep the film moving trying to make-up for the derivative plot. Overall I didn't dislike the film and it kept my attention but this film will only be of interest to die hard fanatics of the franchise.

Bonus Rant: I do not understand the subtitle "Birthday." I don't recall anywhere in the film mentioning that it takes place on or around Sadako's birthday. Could the term "Brithday" refer to the birth of the curse? That doesn't really make sense either as characters are already talking about being cursed before Sadako is even murdered. Perhaps this is why Dreamworks Entertainment removed the subtitle from any of the DVD box artwork because most people, me included, wouldn't understand what it meant.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Ringu 2 - 2.5/5

After the "Rasen" debacle, filmmakers decided to get the franchise back on track and released Ringu 2. Talk about a slap in the face to "Rasen" with a title like "Ringu 2". Adding the number "2" in the title is like saying "fuck you 'Rasen', I am the true sequel to 'Ringu'." Though I hate inconsistencies in sequel titles (since technically this is the third "Ringu" film) but after viewing "Rasen", the filmmakers had every right to call this "Ringu 2" as opposed to "Ringu 3". The title tells the audience to forget that science fiction horseshit sequel "Rasen" and go into this sequel with a clear mind. The filmmakers even hired original "Ringu" director Hideo Nakata to ensure this "proper" sequel would bring back the same feel and tone.

As soon as I started the film I knew I was going to have a much better time as, like I expected, this actually FEELS like a sequel to "Ringu". Back is the good old fashioned ghost story element that was SORELY lacking in "Rasen". The plot picks up right after the first film with Reiko and her son on the run after taking the cursed tape from her dead ex-husbands apartment. Authorities find her father dead (with a frozen face of terror) and are unable to find Reiko or her son. In comes Mai, the girlfriend of the ex-husband character in the original. She teams up with one of Reikos co-workers and ends up finding them. Giving them up to the authorities it is found out that Reiko's son is gaining the same psychic abilities of Sadako as that ghostly girl seems to be taking over his body. Now it's a battle to save the boy from the ghostly bitch from the well with an extremely strange "exorcism" scene involving a pool of water.

The best part of this film is the return of the creepy atmosphere and sense of dread that THE OTHER FILM did away with. Director Hideo Nakata even has more flare behind the camera giving this sequel more style and a sleeker look. However the film moves slowly and there a lot of plot holes and general stupidity that get in the way of the scares and atmosphere. First of all it tries to explain many questions left open in the first film (and I had many, believe me) but it ended up making me ask more questions! The answers just gave rise to more questions. Also it seems everyone in this film is starting to develop ESP. If they survived the original, then they are destined to have some sort of psychic ability in this one. Also the thing that seems to bug me the most is there are some characters, that have never seen the cursed tape, also seem to be haunted by Sadako. What the hell? This sequel is even breaking some its own rules established in the original.

All the plot holes nearly ruined this sequel for me but then a glimpse of "Rasen" would pop into my head and suddenly I would be less harsh on this film. Fans of the first film will love this sequels return to the franchises roots by making another old fashioned ghost story with lots of creepy moments and scares. If the plot holes become too much to handle, just think of "Rasen" and suddenly you will find that this sequel isn't that bad after all.

Bonus Rant: I love how actress Miki Nakatani returns as the character Mai Takano. She played the character Mai in the first film "Ringu" and also the sequel "Rasen". It just brings me a chuckle that in "Rasen" her character gives birth to a clone of herself that is possessed by Sadako. I know this film ignores "Rasen" but for some reason the thought of that character almost makes me laugh because of that ridiculous plot element in THAT OTHER FILM. Thanks again "Rasen"... you almost tarnished another film for me!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Director: Scott Glosserman
Notable Cast: Nathan Baesel, Robert Englund, Zelda Rubenstein, Angela Goethals, and a cameo by Kane Hodder

When it comes to low budget horror films, one gets either inspired ideas or complete rehash. "Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon" is, in an ironic sense, both. By creating a film that's about a young man whose inspirations for his life goals happen to be the slashers from some of the 80s best horror films (Kruger, Myers, and Voorhees) it's able to cleverly use all the elements that worked in those films and spin them into a rather inventive new take on a wore thin genre.

Leslie Vernon is a simple man. A simple man that wants to be legendary like his heroes Jason, Freddy, and Michael. He has the smarts and the will to do so. But to create his own legacy he invites a young aspiring film crew of journalists to document his voyage into slasher history. Of course, the crew seeing an opportunity for something clever never realize how well Leslie has thought out his night of terror on his carefully chosen victims and how far he is willing to take his 'stunt'. Now the Horror isn't some fantasy. Leslie is making it real.

The brilliance of "Behind The Mask" is masked in its own intelligence. By spinning a slasher film this way (at first I thought the documentary style was a bit gimmicky but it easily came to make sense in its overall scheme) it takes a ragged concept and makes it fresh. Blending tons of dark humor into the film with its overall insanely fun horror fan attitude - try to catch all the old school horror references folks, because there are a ton - "Behind The Mask" comes off masked in its own homages to create a film that's actually pretty deep and intriguing. With a stellar performance from our leading villain Nathan Baesel and leading interviewer Angela Goethals and some hit or miss supporting cast, this film is able to sell itself quite nicely even without its somewhat gimmicky moments.

At it's core the film still isn't quite perfect though.
It suffers from some minor scripting logic flaws and its budget retrains it at times. For example, I do really wish though the film would have built up the tension within the film crew about whether or not Leslie would actually go through with his diabolical plan. Its even a bit hard to believe that it never really crossed their minds until the shit started to hit the fan and then by the time it does, the decision and some of the choices there seem a little rushed. These are basic things that all slashers suffer from so its not a huge dilemma in the end.

"Behind The Mask" is a horror film made for fans by some serious horror fans. Half the fun of this film is putting together the references and little pieces of homage like when Leslie's friends give him the doggy bag after dinner look at the decorations beside the lamp behind him - for example. This film just comes off far more clever and interesting than it should have, which is both impressive and surprising. Strong performances, a strong idea, and some more than impressive special effects make it a fantastic slasher too. Definitely a must watch for horror fans.

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rasen - 1.5/5

Despite the existence of a film titled Ringu 2, Rasen is actually the first sequel to the Japanese box-office smash Ringu. I, like many others, was confused by this at first. How could there be a Ringu 2 if there was already a sequel. Was Rasen that bad that they decided to completely ignore it? Curiosity got the best of me and I had to view this "forgotten" sequel to Ringu just to see why the filmmakers decided to march on with the franchise treating this film like it never existed.

Doing a little research before viewing I was astounded to find out that this sequel was filmed back-to-back with Ringu and actually released at the exact same time in theaters. Both films had different directors but each film shared the same producers, some of the same actors, and even both were based on novels by the same author. The purpose was to generate a little more publicity buzz but like expected it backfired. Ringu went on to be a huge hit where Rasen floundered and then became a box office dud. At first I thought the failure of the film had to be due to the fact that it was released at the same time as Ringu. It was based on the novel by the same author of Ringu and the novel was an official sequel. It couldn't be because it was BAD... could it? Well to my surprise after viewing the film I see every reason why the filmmakers of the franchise pretend this film doesn't exist... because this film turns into a complete disaster.

Rasen, which means "spiral", starts off with a doctor who's attempting suicide because of the death of his son. He pulls out of his depression and goes to work only to find out he has to do an autopsy on the body of an old friend from college. His old chum happens to be the ex-husband character from Ringu who was killed by the curse of Sadako. They find he passed away due to a tumor in his heart. In comes a reporter to talk to the doctor saying he found the journal of the reporter from the first film describing the curse of the video tape. Not surprisingly a duplicate of the tape is found and our doctor watches the damn thing and he has to find out how to stop the curse before he becomes it's next victim.

The film starts off fine enough but over halfway into it the plot became a total shitstorm of ridiculous plot twists that totally go against the rules and feel established in Ringu. The first three things that this sequel does wrong is that the corpses from the original no longer have the frozen face of terror. That was one of the best aspects of the original and they totally blow over that fact. The second problem is that they give Sadako a face here instead of having her hair keep her face hidden, adding to the creep factor. Giving her a sadistic, almost sardonic face makes the film lose any scare or creep factor. The third problem is the film is NOT creepy or scary. These however are only the MINOR problems with this sequel. The major problem is they turn a good old fashioned ghost story into some science fiction bullshit that involves viruses and DNA. Apparently whoever watches the "cursed" tape or reads of its curse contracts a virus... if you can believe that. People are no longer scared to death.... they now develop a tumor in their heart. The film hits absolute bottom when our "ghostly" Sadako becomes reborn when our main doc character has sex and his partner gives birth to a clone of herself that has the spirit of Sadako!? What the fuck! Not only that she helps the doc clone his dead son in her womb! Again, what the fuck! By the end of the film I was holding my head in my hands asking myself how the filmmakers could turn a ghost story film into absolute science fiction horseshit! I can't remember the last time I've seen a sequel take such a drastic turn in events and completely contradict everything established in the original by hitting the the plot, not only way into left field, but over the fence and into the parking lot!

After viewing Rasen I completely agree with the filmmakers ignoring the film and getting back on track with the ghost story basics in Ringu 2. I find this sequel guilty of going against everything that made Ringu suspenseful and creepy and it's now rendered only as a curiosity piece for film-buffs, like me, to see why it is a "forgotten" sequel. I still can't believe the author that wrote the original wrote this sequel which tarnishes the legend of Sadako. It left me saddened, pissed off standing in a pile of my lost humanity. The only reason I gave this film 1.5 stars as opposed to 1 is it actually isn't poorly made. The style, the acting are all good. It's just the damn plot! I only recommend this to the most curious of Ringu fans. All others are hereby warned to skip it.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Puppet Master 4 - 2/5

Puppet Master 4 and 5 were touted to be the holy grail of sequels by Full Moon Entertainment when they were first announced. Puppet Master was the golden boy franchise of the company and they were spending a pretty penny on these sequels to make sure they looked the absolute best. First of all they were banking on their success so they had them filmed back-to-back and to ensure they products had quality they even went out their way to actually hire a director outside of their little clique of stock directors that actually has had experience with larger productions companies. Did the films turn out for the better? Well lets re-animate or little marionettes one more time to see.

Like the end credits to Puppet Master III promised, this time the puppets are good guys. Whoa, don't give up yet, it's not all bad trust me! The film opens with a group of 3 people going to visit a friend at the Bodega Bay Inn where they're insanely smart friend is working on some high tech robotics project for a major company. In the mean time colleagues of his are getting sent packages that contain little demon minions, which look like melted gremlins with metal masks, who slice then up. In the mean time our smart young hero discovers our puppet trunk hidden and tinkering around with Andre Toulon's notes, he figures out how to re-animate our trademark puppets. Continuity errors aside compared to the previous entries, a package containing a minion then arrives on their doorstep and it's a battle to the death between the demons and the puppets.

Right off the bat this film LOOKS a hell-of-a-lot better than the previous sequels. You can tell Full Moon put a lot of effort into it. Hiring director Jeff Burr was a great idea despite his sketchy track record in the past for directing mediocre to hum-drum sequels (Pumpkinhead II, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Stepfather 2). Despite his track record you can tell this guy has had experience directing for the big boys and he brought that experience to down to Full Moon and the film looks beautiful as a result. The editing, cinematography, lighting and overall production values are all far better than the usual Full Moon fodder. Fans will also love that Full Moon yet again adds another new puppet, this time in the form of Decapitron. Decapitron? Really? Could we have come up with a cheesier name? Decapitron has interchangeable heads, one of which has a power electro ball and another metal looking one that, get this, morphs into a tiny little head of Andre Toulon (again played by Guy Rolfe) to give our little brainy hero advice. What? I can accept a lot but that us ULTRA cheesy! Stop motion extraordinaire David Allan also has his work cut out for him here and he goes all out giving us great stop motion effects which include some pretty intricate battles.

The aspect of this film that keeps me from liking it just as much as Puppet Master III, despite being a better made film on a technical level, are the sequences which feature the ruler of the demon minions. This guy is the demon lord Sutekh from another dimension and he uses his "priests" to animate the killer melted gremlin creatures (called Totems) in order to get revenge on people using his reanimating power that Toulon stole from him. These sequences are poorly shot complete with shitty effects, going against the nice, polished look of the rest of the film. The Demon Lord Suteckh reminds me more of a villain from Power Rangers than a horror franchise. These sequences from the netherworld dimension just made me cringe every time the appeared and almost ruined the film for me. I also have to mention the continuity errors compared to the previous films. Puppet Master III was a prequel so this is direct follow-up to Puppet Master II and trust me there are so many continuity errors it will make you burst a blood vessel. Why was Andre Toulon a villain in that film yet now he is a caring old man (like in Puppet Master III). What about the ending to Puppet Master II? And where the hell is Torch! That puppet was bad ass and I really wanted to see him again. Grr....

Overall this is an entertaining B-movie sequel in a B-movie franchise. The film looks better than all of the other sequels due to Full Moon actually getting a director with talent. The cliché characters and awful netherworld dimension elements are almost counterbalanced by creative effects and a sense of fun supplied by the filmmakers. Other than the fact our puppets are "good", fans of the franchise will have a great time.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Ringu - 4/5

Ringu is more popular today thanks to its American remake The Ring in 2002 which was a huge box office success. I will admit I saw The Ring first when it first came out but sadly I waited years to finally watch the original Japanese film that inspired it. Ringu, made 4 years earlier, was a huge success in Japan and also paved the dark highway of what we know as "J-Horror" and the likes of Ju-On, One Missed Call, etc. Still with all the films it inspired Ringu is still considered one of the best the popular subgenre in Japan has to offer. After finally getting around to watching it, despite seeing many films it inspired first, I can easily see why it is still so popular.

Thanks to the American remake most people will already know the storyline. The plot has a reporter investigate the deaths of 4 teenagers that seemed to die in a state of shock and have frozen expressions of terror on their face. Our reporter in her research discovers that after they stayed in a cabin, they discovered and all watched a video tape, received a phone call, and died exactly seven days later. She goes to the motel they stayed at, discovers the tape, and watches it herself only to be brought into the curse. With the help of her ex-husband, she has to race against the clock to save her life by deciphering the cryptic message the video tape offers.

The best aspect of this film is that it's is a good, old fashioned ghost story that keeps the audience engrossed due to a desperate sense of dread. People who only think horror is a brutal killing ever 10 minutes are going to find this boring but fans that like their horror good and creepy this will be a real treat. The film also essentially bloodless which is a real shock compared to most modern horror cinema. Most horror today seems to replace suspense and scares with brutal violence and gore. Don't get me wrong as I like many gory films but just simple gore and violence doesn't make a film scary (Rob Zombie, I'm looking at you!). I found the creepy atmosphere, and corpses with their frozen terror expressions, and the appearance of Sadako (the films antagonist) with her hair covered face (except for that one drifting eye) much more scary than anything with blood or gore could offer.

The film however is not perfect as it does have a few disjointed plot issues with some plot elements never resolved, especially surrounding the character of Sadako. Were these plot elements left unresolved on purpose for a possible sequel? Who knows but I wanted to know more. Also where did the tape come from? One character at one point mentions that "it wasn't made by people" or something along those lines. I found that as a weak explanation and a little more back-story on the tape itself would have been much more appreciated. The occurrences that happened to Sadako happened in the early 60's so why would her "spirit" want to make a cursed video tape. I highly doubt video tapes were popular in the 60's because...I don't know...they weren't invented yet? Also why would the curse kill the viewer exactly seven days later? There's a few too many issues left with no answers.

Despite some plot issues, I still found the film engrossing and extremely creepy. It seems the Japanese are the only people left that are able to truly make creepy ghost stories any more as American films are just throwing the suspense and scares out the window for violence and gore. Fans of good old fashioned ghost stories are highly recommend to hunt this import down. Ringu was so popular that it was followed by three sequels, three sequels that I will soon be happily visiting.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blood Creek - 3/5

When I see the name Joel Schumacher attached to anything, I get nervous. He did give us some classics like "The Lost Boys" or "Falling Down" but he also killed Batman in the 90s and gave us shitty films like "Phone Booth" and "The Number 23". Thusly, when I found out he directed a little Horror flick called "Blood Creek", I got nervous. I also got curious (curiosity killed the Matt, you know) so I rented this zombie filled Nazi themed flick to give it a shot. Its not great by any means, but I can't say that I wasn't at least somewhat pleasantly surprised with the result.

Evan misses his brother. Whilst fishing in the woods, his brother Victor, a Iraq war veteran, went missing and Evan can't seem to get past that. Two years later, with his father being a general dick and life finally moving on, Victor comes back to Evan in the middle of the night telling him to grab some serious guns and to come with him. The brothers than head to an old farm nearby where they find a family seemingly kidnapping people to feed an 80 year old German occultist that found the secret to immortality and seemingly the power to conquer the world (damn Nazis and their conquering the world shite). Of course, they are there to tear shit up for imprisoning Victor for two years but little do they know they are about to have one crazy night.

So we have Nazi occult, a vampire like villain, an ageless family, and zombies (including zombie horses which I haven't seen since "House 2") in "Blood Creek". Normally I would spell that kind of list as good times, but "Blood Creek" isn't everything it could have been. Despite some actually very sleek visual style and a concept that's fairly intriguing, this film falters quite a bit with its logic jumps in script and rather flat characters. Our brothers tend to only have sparse and rather bland dialogue (that randomly takes zips in odd directions) and some of the film's continuities are vague at best. Sometimes zombies are out to kill and other times they just kind of run around (or can actually think towards the end for brief spurts) and the story tends to leave things relatively unexplained. Luckily, "Blood Creek" has a speedier than thou pacing, a badass villain in Wirth, and some relatively solid special effects (sans the out of place CGI moments) to balance out its flaws.

"Blood Creek" is a film that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It's not out to change perceptions of the world and if you are willing to overlook some of the forehead slapping plot progressions and weak back stories for our two heroes than one should have a fine time enjoying the macabre of this film. Its got a snazzy evil villain and hey, from the ending, it looks like we could have a helluva franchise on our hands. Its worth to viewing although I'm not sure its necessarily worth some of the praise it received. At least, Joel Schumacher didn't screw this one up too bad. He did kill Batman you know.

BONUS RANT: So if your brother who has been missing for two years randomly shows up in the middle of the night looking like Bigfoot and saying that you need to grab ammo and guns to come with him, would you do it? Evan does. I sure as hell wouldn't without some sort of explanation first. Seriously? It's logic jumps like this one that make this movie a little hard to swallow. All he had to say was, "Dude, Nazi vampire man is going to take over the world" and I'm there shotgun doting with him, no questions asked. But Evan seems pretty okay with going along without even that. Sigh. Guess we are just two different people. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Black Samson - 2.5/5

Another title this film could go by is Black Pusser. Why that odd yet interesting nasty name? Well because Black Samson is nothing more than a blaxploitation version of Walking Tall with the character Black Samson filling in for Joe Don Baker's Buford Pusser. Despite being completely unoriginal, this "rip-off" didn't come out half bad.

Here we have Rockne Tarkington as our title character. Black Samson is a night club owner (who owns a lion no less!) with a set of morals. He does is best to keep his neighborhood free of drugs and crime. Samson gets his work cut out for him with a muscle bound mob member named Napa tries to muscle in on his turf. Along the way he finds love. Not much to the plot but sometimes we need films like this. Sometimes no-brain films with some good heroes, good villains, and simple plot is just what the doctor ordered and I must have been in the mood for this tasty medicine.

The character Black Samson is actually rather atypical for the blaxploitation genre. Most of the heroes were either over-the-top (any Fred Williamson character) or super hands-off cool (Richard Roundtree's Shaft). Samson just seems like an average good guy with a good head on his shoulders and a nice set of ethics. Perhaps this is why the film wasn't as popular with audiences as the character just wasn't eccentric or cool enough. Rockne Tarkington plays the character well but sadly his career never really seemed to take off. To be honest I can only think of a small role he had in The Ice Pirates off the top of my head. The character of Samson however gets overshadows by the villain played by genre great William Smith. Not the pop rap/actor Will Smith, this is the body builder William Smith and this guy could eat Will Smith for breakfast. This guy is so fucking tough that he played Conan's father in Conan the Barbarian. That's how badass he is as Conan himself came from his loins! Some blaxploitation films William Smith played the villain in underused his psychotic talent. Not in Black Samson. This guy is completely nuts! At one point he tries to drown his girlfriend. When he sends his girlfriend undercover into the night club and she falls for Black Samson, he even has the balls to throw her out of a moving car! Nothing makes for a entertaining movie more than having a great villain and this film succeeds on that level.

Director Charles Bail (Super Fly) does an adequate job with the film but I wish he injected more style into his camera work. The film just has too much of a point-shoot look for my taste. Other than that the film has an interesting atypical hero, a major badass villain, and a familiar easy to follow plot. When you're not in the thinking mood, pop in Black Samson, turn your brain off and have a relaxing good time.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Summertime Killer, The - 3/5

Despite being released in a DVD double feature with an Italian poliziotteschi film, The Summertime Killer itself isn't a film in that subgenre. Though no doubt inspired by Italian crime films, this picture itself is a Spanish film and in turn is my very first Spanish crime film experience. To be honest I don't think I could have started in a better place.

The film begins with a young boy witnessing the murder of his father. This sequence is cleverly edited replaying many small sequences showing the audience how traumatizing it is for the boy. Years later a young blond haired man sporting retro cool 70's sunglasses is traveling the world, killing off big time crime bosses. A crime lord in New York starts to worry about his life and hires a cop (Karl Malden) to track down the killer. The cop tracks him down to Los Angeles and discovers the killer was the young boy from the opening sequence killing all the men who murdered his father. The young man, with one more crime boss to kill, decides to kidnap his daughter to lure him out of protection and predictably enough the young man falls in love in turn questioning his need for murder.

The films highlight is the grand motorcycle stunts as our main killer does a majority of his traveling on a dirt bike. The chase sequence towards the end is edge-of-your-seat material and one of the most underrated chase sequences I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The films plot however feels disjointed as it makes some odd turns at a moments notice. First the films starts out as a revenge film then turns into a kidnapping flick. The characters also tend to make some really illogical decisions taking me out of the film momentarily.

Karl Maldsen is very likable as our quirky cop but newcomer Christopher Mitchum (son of Robert) seems to almost sleepwalk through his role. I understand his character is the strong, tortured silent type but he is no Charles Bronson and I found his character rather boring and uninteresting. Olivia Hussey as the crime lord's daughter is beautiful as ever and her sophisticated personality makes up for much of Christopher Mitchum's shortcomings as a strong leading actor.

Fans of European grindhouse cinema will find much to like here with an interesting cast, sure handed direction and some amazing action sequences. The weak male lead and awkward plot turns should be commonplace for fans of such films but those flaws keep this film from rising above other films in the genre and becoming a more popular cult favorite. I still say it's a must see for euro cult fanatics for the chase sequence alone.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Mummy's Curse, The - 2/5

By the time The Mummy's Curse got released, the shambling mummy figure of Kharis had become a joke. The plot elements of tana leaves and the princess Anaka had become self parodies and audiences where getting sick of and tired of characters unable to outrun our shambling zombie. I for one was growing tired of the same old gimmicks and actually couldn't wait for this fifth entry into Universals Mummy franchise to be over.

Typical in Universal horror fashion we get one major continuity error right at the beginning. The end of the last film The Mummy's Ghost had our cloth wrapped foe took his princess Anaka into a watery grave in northern New England. The swamp he walked into surprisingly moves to Southern Cajun country. Was this an attempt by the filmmakers to breathe some new life into the faltering franchise by giving the Mummy the ability to terrorize a new environment? Perhaps or otherwise it's just a royal fuck-up on the writers part. The absolute most asinine plot element the writers incorporate is the same Mistake the Mummy's Tomb made by making this film take place 25 years after the events of the last picture. The Mummy's Hand took place in 1940. The Mummy's Tomb took place 30 years after those events and The Mummy's Ghost took place 5 years after that. Those added to now another 25 years makes this film take place in the year 2000. Like the Mummy's Tomb the filmmakers make no attempt to make this film look like it takes place in some sort of future and the audience is stuck in a film that looks like it takes place in... well 1944. What an alternate universe this series takes place in as human beings make no progress and 60 years in the future it still looks like the 1940's!

The swamp Kharis and his princess are in gets drained due to the land being prepped for building. In comes some archeologists to pester the construction contractor by telling him that a two mummies are in the swamp. Kharis of course awakes and finds yet another Egyptian priest to give him orders. Anaka also awakens and she changes back to a normal looking woman who seems confused, like she is "living two lives in two different times." The film finally shambles to an ending that easily leaves the door open for another sequel... a sequel that thankfully didn't arrive. Universal did revive the mummy in the comedy spin-off Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. It would take 15 years after these by-the-number Universal films about Kharis the mummy before the character would gain any sort of horror respect again when Hammer studios remade The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb in 1959 simply titled "The Mummy."

At a mere 1 hour and 1 minute, this connect-the-dots sequel to a connect-the-dots sequel seems too long. By this time our cheap sequels were just becoming carbon copies of each other and with each copy the image got blurrier and more faded. It was time for the Mummy franchise to die and like it's walking monster, the films were becoming desiccated husks that seemed single minded as the series villain himself. If you loved the previous films then there is no reason you shouldn't find something to like here otherwise you're not going to find anything remotely new.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Substitute 4: Failure Is Not An Option, The - 2/5

The Substitute franchise finally comes to a close and who would of thought it would made it to four entries? I can see one, maybe two but four? I knew the series was doomed to end when I saw this DVD as a new release at our local blockbuster and they only carried one copy. One copy! They carried at least four of Substitute 3. Artisan Entertainment itself seemed to be embarrassed they made four entries and they removed the number "4" on the original DVD box art making the title "The Substitute: Failure is Not an Option." Also what's with the subtitle? Actually all the subtitles in the Substitute franchise sound like taglines as opposed to titles: School's Out, Winner Takes All, Failure is Not an Option...

Okay enough of me going off about how long the franchise went and the silly subtitles, lets dig into the plot of Substitute 4. Treat Williams returns for a third time as the mercenary Karl Thomasson. This time he is hired by a prestigious retired soldier to go undercover as a history teacher into a military school to discover why his nephew has changed for the worse. It seems the school is run by a white supremist (Patrick Kilpatrick, my favorite killer cyborg teacher from Class of 1999) who is recruiting young skinheads in order to do terrorist activities.

The writers again try to breathe new life into the overlong franchise by switching the environment yet again this time to a military school, further distancing the film from its origin about the problem with gangs in urban environments. The problem with moving the setting to a military school is that Treat Williams' character is more in his element and less like a fish out of water which the substitute was in the previous films. Since he is a military character the audience feels that his character isn't as in much danger since he is in an environment he is use to.

The look of this film has the same cheap look of the last entry no doubt to another low budget and the same director returning from part 3. The action is rather low key and the special effects are embarrassing (the exploding building brought a tear to my eye). Other than Williams and KilPatrick, the rest of the cast is again stock direct-to-video fodder that just do good enough to get the film by.

This is easily the least of the Substitute franchise but one could do worse to kill and hour-and-a-half. Treat Williams still has enough charm left in him to keep people from turning the film off but unless you're a diehard fan of the franchise I would recommend finding some action kicks someplace else. The substitute finally retired after this entry and it was due time as the franchise did overstay it's welcome by a hair.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Confessions Of A Police Captain - 3.5/5

Being a huge fan of poliziotteschi (Italian Crime) films, I jumped at the chance to purchase Wild East's DVD release of "Confessions of a Police Captain" which was also partly due to the fact it starred Italian great Franco Nero. Franco Nero is one of my all time favorite actors and will happily watch any film he stars in. I actually was apprehensive going into this film at first despite liking the genre and Franco Nero. I was apprehensive due to the lackluster title. I know better than to judge a film a film by its title but I was use to poliziotteschi films having awesome and attention grabbing titles like "Rome Armed to the Teeth" and "The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist." The title "Confessions of a Police Captain" reminded me more of a boring TV made movie. Thankfully upon finishing the film it came out much better than its lackluster title promised.

This film stars American actor Martin Balsan as our burnt-out Police Captain and Franco Nero as our newly appointed District Attorney. The police captain is at wits end with corruption in the cities politics that leads up to mayor himself so he concocts an elaborate scheme to bring all the corruption out. The District Attorney, despite being new to the scene, also sees all the corruption around him and must decide to put his career at risk to make it known.

The best part of this film is, not surprisingly, the cast and Martin Balsan and Franco Nero bicker and shout at each other throughout most of the film. The captain thinks the district attorney is corrupt and vice versa and they are both hell-bent on proving that the other is padding their pockets with money from the wrong side. Martin Balsan has always been an underrated actor in my humble opinion. I know him more for his small roles in Cannon productions like Death Wish 3 and The Delta Force but his acting even shines in those B-Flicks. Here he actually has a good script to actually make his great acting get noticed.

My one complaint is the film is extremely full of dialogue and plot and not on action. People looking for rousing action scenes that usually accompany poliziotteschi films will not find it here and are better off watching the works of Enzo G. Castellari and Umberto Lenzi instead. I prefer my poliziotteschi films to have some great action and came out of the film a little disappointed it didn't have any. I also wished the ending tied up some loose ends better but overall I found the plot engrossing and engaging with some violent sequences thrown in every now and then for good measure.

This is a bleak, depressing poliotteschi film with a good plot, great cast and very little action. Fans of poliziotteschi films that are able to get engrossed in films with little action will find a lot to like but otherwise Italian action fans are recommended to find their kicks in other films.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Legion (2010) - 2/5

When you watch a trailer that has Dennis Quaid blasting a possessed old lady off the ceiling, its hard not to get your hopes up. Even though the film "Legion" still contains this same scene, I'm not so sure anything could live up to how awesome that trailer was even without considering how significantly flawed the film actually was.

God is pissed at humanity. This time instead of sending a flood he decides to go even more extreme and just send a shit ton of angels to possess the weak willed people (?!?) to slaughter the mass of humanity and hunt down their future savior. A future savior whom still resides in a the womb of a loley waitress at a run down restaurant in the desert. Lucky for her and all of her co-workers and friends caught in the possession onslaught, an angel disobeys God and makes himself a human to protect the savior and his mother. Can Michael the fallen angel protect the savior of mankind or shall God's wrath swallow them all?

Despite its fairly badass concept and theatrical release, "Legion" comes off more like a straight to DVD that plays itself far too safe for what it could have been. In fact, that's basically why "Legion" hardly ever works besides on a visual side. The story loves to touch on all of these great concepts and ideas but it never actually does anything with them nor does it actually bring up anything nice and controversial for itself. When I see a religious Horror/Action film I expect a little more controversy than a half assed attempt at a moral lesson at the end and a few moments of 'why would God do this?' That's all you got for me? A few snazzy visuals and half assed attempts at giving the film depth? Sorry. "End Of Days" felt more heartfelt than this.

Perhaps the reason for "Legion"'s failures at this is the fact that its story is just too epic for an hour and forty minutes. This would have been much more badass as say a miniseries in the form of like "Storm Of The Century" or "The Stand". It just needed more time with the many characters as it had to get us invested and we definitely needed much more time with the resident fallen angel Michael. We get surface value details of everyone and even the story, but the film just fails to have time to actually delve into these things.

"Legion" is action packed and has some good moments that support this. The angel battle between Michael and Gabriel is pretty solid and occasional gun battle works nicely (like when the car comes into get gas for example) but even some of those seem a little off the wall. The trap with the man filled with acid was cool looking but failed seriously in the logic department. Cool visuals and some solid action just can't save it though.

Although it does have some great concepts, "Legion" just comes off too half assed to really get done what it could have. Some nice visuals and some nice action are the highlights of the film, but don't think too hard about the story. It never really wants you to.

BONUS RANT: Did anyone else think that "Legion" ripped off "The Terminator" series a bit too much? The idea of killing a mother to kill the child, the opening sequence where Michael comes to Earth, the ending where they drive off into the desert (mother wearing a bandanna and all)? At times it made me wonder a bit. Maybe I'm just being a little too picky. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hatchet (2006)

Director: Adam Green
Notable Cast: Joel Moore, Deon Richmond, Tamara Feldman, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd

With all the news of Hatchet II coming into full swing, I decided to go back and revisit one of my favorite films of 2006, the dark horror/comedy Hatchet. Full to the brim of American 80s slasher cliches and sporting some badass moments and pretty stellar cameos, its hard not to love Hatchet in all its cheesy and ridiculous least for any self respecting horror fan.

Victor Crowley is a myth, right? The deformed son of a bayou man, Crowley died a tragic death and supposedly haunts the swamp where his house was burned to the ground. Not that anyone believes it. That's why buddies Ben and Marcus leave Mardi Gras to take a shady haunted Swamp Tour to see the ghosts of the swamp. They meet your slew of average tourist types, but when their boat sinks into the swamp they are left to find their way home through the bayou...and through Crowley's territory.

The heart of this film, and why its so good, is that in its homages to the slasher film of the 80s, it also makes fun of itself and the genre. All great humor is that of self reflection, and Hatchet is just that. It uses every cliche known to the slasher genre, piles it all together in one massive gore filled basic plot and lets it loose on the unsuspecting audience. With a feeling and atmosphere taken straight from Evil Dead 2, Hatchet works on creating a world of American style old school horror that makes other knock offs of the genre look like amateurs.

The story is basic, the acting is uproariously cheesy and over the top including your hero, sidekick, naive couple, bimbos that release their tops for the sake of making a cliche, and our character that is the only one that knows what is actually going on, and of course, a disfigured villain of superhuman strength, size, and ferocity ready to disembowel anything that moves. Its' everything you want in a slasher all done with a solid sense of fun that understands what it is.

Of course, it helps that Adam Green (director) actually throws in some nice visual work and surprises for those just expecting run of the mill stuff here (the shaking bush scene comes to mind with how Green toys with the audience in a cheesy way). He is quite the talent behind the camera (as you can find out by watching his subtle Hitchcockian thriller Spiral that is essentially just the opposite of this film) and his sweet visual style mixes well with the raw look of the setting and REAL special effects. No CGI here folks.

If you want to have a bloody fun time, pick up Hatchet. If you have the right sense of humor or know your slashers its going to be an instant favorite. I will have to admit that if you don't get it, this movie will seem horrendously bad to you. And that's okay. It's made for a chosen audience and done well for them.

BONUS RANT: I still am trying to figure out how this film scored a Manson song to open and close the film. Although I understand the humor behind the song choice, "This Is The New Shit" is a song about how everything shocking has been down before even though everyone claims it to be new, it still sits oddly at the beginning of the film. It would have been better to just end the film with the song rather than open with it. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Substitute 3: Winner Takes All, The - 2/5

Is the Substitute franchise strong enough to warrant a third entry? No, not really but I can't help myself to enroll in any class that has Treat Williams listed as the instructor. Even if the film isn't going to be good, it's guaranteed to have some moments to bring a smile across this film buffs face. That's a good thing since I am addicted to sequels and have to see any follow-up to a film that I even remotely liked.

The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All opens a little different than rest of the franchise. Instead of having the substitute title sprawl across a chalk board it now says the title over a bunch of video war footage and then we are shown Treat Williams captured in prison being tortured in the Middle East. He kills his partner, who is paralyzed from the neck down, in order to break out. Before he does he promises to make amends for him with his daughter. Back in the states we are introduced to his daughter who is a college English professor. Upon meeting with her Williams has to defend her from a bunch of high strung steroid using football players (what timing Treat has!). She ends up being attacked later by a football player due to the fact a group of them are going to fail her class. Williams, being the good Samaritan mercenary he is, gets the help of a new group of mercenary friends to go undercover in the school to uncover a complicated ring of steroid use that even has links to a mafia family!

The series is really starting to show it's thin blood with this entry as the undercover mercenary school teacher is starting to get old. Original writers Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli bring in new mercenary friends to help Treat Williams out in order to liven up the film a bit and they also change the environment a bit from the gang ridden high school into a high class college. Even with these changes the film still acts tired, like it's struggling to show anything new.

Treat Williams is still likable as the lethal yet tongue-in-cheek funny mercenary turned substitute but the rest of the cast is filled with stock B-movie direct-to-video actors. The worst actors are definitely the college football players as mixed with by-the-numbers writing they make very silly, unrealistic jocks that act more like immature high school students. This entry also suffers from what looks like the lowest budget of the franchise so far and the film's look reeks of "DTV" camera work. This sequel, like the previous films, can be overly preachy again especially about how "steroids are bad for you." I'm sorry but steroid abuse doesn't strike the same heart chord as troubled youth in gangs.

The Substitute 3 isn't completely worthless and it's worth a look for people that liked the first two films but it's nothing new and the franchise is definitely on its last leg. The franchise marched on and Treat Williams would take the job as "the substitute" one last time in the next entry The Substitute: Failure is Not an Option.

Bonus Rant: The only way to get this film on DVD is in a double feature with the first Substitute film. What the hell? Why not make it a double feature with Substitute 2? That would make more sense to package it with another sequel. Damn Lionsgate can't get anything right. Even the new quadruple feature set I have still has Substitute 3 packaged on the same disc as the original.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Boss Nig*** - 2.5/5

Cult blaxploitation star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson chose the attention grabbing title Boss "N word" (censored for our website) in order to cause some controversy and make his little western a hit. It worked back in 1975 but sadly as time marched on the title actually ended up hurting the film. It fell into obscurity and was only known by cult film fanatics due to its reputation by name but the film was forgotten by main stream audiences as film distribution companies wouldn't touch the film due to its controversial title. I knew of the film as Fred Williamson is one of my all time favorite cult film stars as he has had starring performances in many of my favorite Italian genre films (most notably The Inglorious Bastards). Ironically one day I find the film in the $5 bin at K-mart with its shortened censored title Boss on the DVD cover art. Some fans of the film were upset that VCI Entertainment chose to release it with the censored title on the box art but I would have done the same. Having the censored title "Boss" allows the film to be sold at many outlet stores that otherwise wouldn't touch it. Being a cult fan I knew what film "Boss" really was and quickly snagged it up as I have been drooling to see this controversial title for many years.

Despite having the censored title on the DVD box art, the VCI DVD has the film completely uncut with its original title on the film itself including the thigh slapping great title song. The film even opens with a letter from Fred Williamson saying he still approves of the title and song. However as the film trucked along I knew I was in for a film whose title had a much better reputation than the actual film. The film for the most part is just another blaxploitation, B-grade western. Don't get me wrong as it is still somewhat entertaining but other than its title it wouldn't be nearly as memorable.

The film opens with Fred Williamson and his comic sidekick D'Urville Martin roaming the west and coming into what they call a "white town." There is a sheriff and deputy position open so they take the jobs against the Mayor's (played by genre great R.G. Armstrong) wishes. The town is corrupt and the Mayor is controlled by the local villain (played by badass William Smith) and Smith doesn't take too kindly to Williamson pushing people around on his turf and violence ensues.

Fred Williamson is enjoyable as ever as he plays his usual, cocky yet likable self. He doesn't go too far out on a limb here as it's the typical good guy gets girl and kills bad guy routine. Williamson liked his film formula's that way and it's a shame as it made them very predictable, which this film is. Body builder William Smith was perfectly cast as the villain as he does play psychopaths very well, but sadly he seems underused and not his character is not given his full potential as a truly despicable villain. He does some pretty nasty things like trample a child beneath a horse but he still didn't come across as a really awful man like he has in other classic cult pictures.

The production values are also very slim here but then again it is a B-western. I especially didn't like the awful wardrobe for our villain William Smith. His shirts brought more laughter than anything. Williamson still looks badass as ever though. The film is also surprisingly old fashioned when it comes to violence. Despite Williamson working in violent urban action films and Italian films, he and director Jack Arnold chose to go the old more classical western violence route. I believe if this film had a little more extreme violence, like seen in spaghetti westerns, it would be a much more popular cult film.

Overall you have a B-grade western film that is entertaining enough but is also rather forgettable other than the attention grabbing title. I, like many others, am offended by the N word but people have to realize this film was made in a different era, a time when black power was at its height and heroes like Williamson and Jim Brown were needed as role models. It's more interesting as a historical film in that aspect rather than as a mere B-western.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wes Craven's New Nightmare - 3.5/5

Hold on for one moment. So this seventh entry to the "Nightmare" series so much isn't a sequel as much as it is a spin off taking the series in a whole new direction. Nowadays they call it a reboot, but needless to say that "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" is easily one of the best in a series that already dug itself a grave. It's smart, it trends back to the darkness and issues that the original one dealt with, and its pretty unique.

Heather Lagenkamp (who played Nancy in the first film) portrays herself in this film as she tries to live on with her life with her husband and son. She still is recognized as 'the girl in that movie with the guy and the claws' and constantly tries to move from its shadow. But Wes Craven is writing a new script based on his nightmares. And these nightmares are coming true. Soon Heather is going to have to face Freddy again...this time in the real world to save her son.

Originally this story was pitched to New Line Cinema back in place of the third film but was rejected. Since technically Freddy is now dead at this point, it seemed like as good of time as any to pull out this pseudo spin off sequel to the world. Luckily, Craven does a smart job with the story and brings it back to what made the original (and third one) the best. Its dark, its actually scary at times, and its fairly intelligent. It makes a mockery at what the series had become and in doing so was both able to fix the wrongs and create a unique film experience that would obviously later influence other Craven projects like "Scream".

Of course, "New Nightmare" is still far from perfect as it tends to be still a bit too over the top for me. Freddy's new look might be a nice update, but the organic claw glove doesn't quite seem as foreboding as his old one and his overstylized burns tend to make him seem even more fake. It did dawn on me during this film that perhaps that was intent of the look (at one point its loosely explained by Craven that this new Freddy is an ancient evil that wants replicate the Freddy experience since he no longer fed on the fear through the films) but it still just doesn't quite sit with me as well. The film also tends to tough on some great concepts like how Horror films are viewed by society, their effects on the mind, and even how evil can easily translate from one reality to the next, but rarely does the film seem as edgy as it could have been. I almost wanted it to be more violent, more dark, and more sinister to match that atmosphere the original had only magnified to a modern audience. But rarely does the film actually go there (the scene of Julie's demise that's stolen from the first film strikes some of those chimes nicely) despite some hints at its directional choice.

With some great cameos from actors and actresses and crew from many of the films, this one is definitely for the die hards for the series. It homages the original one in its glory nicely and adds enough originality and darkness back into the franchise to make it a solid watch. Definitely a nice way to 'end' the series.

BONUS RANT: Wes Craven was supposedly too chicken to ask Johnny Depp to make an appearance in the film (he originally made his film debut in the first film) even though later on Depp said he would have gladly done it. Shit. Depp did a cameo in the sixth fucking entry why the hell wouldn't he have done this one?! His presence would have been a nice cap to the script and film as he is still one of the most memorable characters from the entire series. Shame on your pride Craven! For shame! 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare - 1.5/5

It was pretty obvious with "5" that the series was running low on steam and low on ideas as with most Horror franchises that run that long. Thusly, as with many of these franchises, the "Nightmare" series decided to take a more comical tone to its liking and thusly we have was was supposed to be the final film of the series "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare".

So naturally with the nonsensical ending to the fifth entry, this film doesn't even try to come up with anything clever to bring Freddy back. Its just set into the future a bit and all of the teens and children of Springwood are dead and their parents driven insane from Freddy's killing spree. One teen is left alive and sent out to retrieve Freddy's long lost daughter so that he would be able to leave the confines of the town he was burned in and take his rampage elsewhere. Of course, with the help of a few friends (including a dream expert played by Yaphet Kotto, fuck yea!) they finally scheme a way to take down Kruger once an for all (again).

Now I won't lie to you and say that time one makes much more sense than the last few. Cause really, it doesn't. This one just happens to not care so much and has fun with it, which is actually somewhat of an improvement. This is also the reason this film doesn't work either. Although by this time I'm not expecting these films to follow any sort of logic, you should be used to that now. But its this weird sense of Looney Tunes type humor in the film that makes it tough to watch. Although at times the humor does work (following up the usual quote about the horrors of sleep to open the film with a Freddy quote taken from the third film "Welcome to the prime time, bitch!" has to throw a smile on your face) more often than not it just fails...and miserably at that. It tries too hard to be serious and give depth to a story that is already getting too ridiculous and at other times it almost seems to parody itself. Its a mix that doesn't work. Had they gone with a darker toned humor instead of slapstick and focused on bringing back more of the scary aspects to counterbalance the humor than it would have worked but it doesn't. And this film just seems to start with a massive FAIL stamped on its forehead.

Throw on top of that a cast one could care less about and less than impressive special effects that the series is known for and "Freddy's Dead" doesn't make the cut either. Not to mention that the gimmicky 3D bull shit is thrown in at the end (even the characters in the film have to wear the glasses...yeah...not kidding) and this film just smacks too much of trying way too hard at times.

I have to give "Freddy's Dead" that it was at least far more fun than the last couple and that it does have one or two solid moments ("Every town has an Elm street") but the film either needed to decide to be all out funny or take it serious. Neither of which happen and it cuts its own throat because of this.

BONUS RANT: This film has one of the worst and most pointless cameos of all time. Rosanne Bar and Tom Arnold make appearances as two crazy adults in Springfield. As if the storyline element that all the adults seems to go crazy was enough, they throw those two in there to make one want to just turn off the film instantly. Then of course, the entire concept that the world just ignores that all of these teens and children die or go missing in this ONE TOWN is absurd. Even worse is the fact that they try to explain it by saying that Freddy is able to make the world forget that these poor children even existed....which makes not a lick of fucking sense since the rest of the series NEVER ADHERES TO THIS IDEA. Alright series, I'm sucking on the barrel of a gun here trying to even comprehend how you thought this was a good idea. And it looks like you aren't going to talk me out of it. Luckily, this is essentially the last of the series so they don't try to have to explain that one (the rest are more or less spin offs or remakes at this point). 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Substitute 2: School's Out, The - 2.5/5

Though I enjoyed The Substitute for what it was, I was still incredibly surprised to see it was followed by a sequel when I visited the local video store. The original just didn't seem like a strong enough story to warrant a sequel, not to mention a franchise. I went into this sequel not expecting much because a) it is direct-to-video and b) Tom Berenger did not return as our main substitute. Despite this I enjoy Treat Williams as an actor (especially in Dead Heat and Deep Rising) so I kept an open mind. All I have to say is for a direct-to-video B-movie sequel I actually had a pretty good time.

Here our film opens with a teacher getting gunned downed down in New York. Move on next to his funeral where our new mercenary Karl Thomasson (played by Treat Williams) meanders in and we find out he was the teacher's brother. He of course tries to make amends with his niece and gets the notion to enroll as the substitute teacher to find his brother's killers with the aid of his buddy Joey 6 (one of the surviving mercenaries from the original) . He in turn uncovers a chop shop operation headed by another teacher and violence ensues.

Like the original there is plenty of violence along with some well placed humor. Thanks to the tongue-in-cheek performance by Williams that I love, he pulls many of these humorous moments off nicely. His lesson on the history of the yo-yo especially got me to smile. Along with the humor Williams also pulls off the physical mercenary part well making him really a perfect fit for the role. He's funny and he can be lethal. The supporting cast is also nice considering this is a low-budget film. Perhaps the one role I had trouble accepting is B.D. Wong as the shop teacher. I guess I'm used to him as the homosexual psychologist on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and I had trouble accepting him in the role of the manly shop teacher. Despite this he is still a good actor.

The connection to the original film is flimsy at best with our only returning character being Joey 6 (now played by Angel David) who tells our new substitute that Jonathan Shale from the original has given up his mercenary ways and has begun to teach. Joey 6 doesn't even seem like the same character and he might as well have been left out of the plot completely. Perhaps the film would have benefitted more if Treat Williams played Tom Berenger's brother or just made it a completely different film about another mercenary turned substitute teacher with no connection.

Overall though I had a good time with this sequel as has the same mixture of violence and some sly humor. Credit for this can be given to writers Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli for returning from the original. This sequel, like the original, can be a little preachy at times about how "gangs are bad" but overall this is a decent direct-to-video sequel.

Bonus Rant: The DVD I have from Lionsgate has 4 moments of poor encoding where digital blocks show up. Okay I understand a film called "The Substitute 2: School's Out" isn't going to be high art but COME ON! They also had shoddy encoding on their Knight Moves and Cutthroat Island discs as well. For a big name company they sure do put out some glitchy discs.

Written By Eric Reifschneider