Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unknown (2011) - 2.5/5

As we all patiently await for Besson and company to give us "Taken 2", we are at least somewhat privileged to be given "Unknown" which turns out to be "Taken" but crossed with a little of the "Bourne" films. Alright, maybe its not as good as either of those movies, but I'm a sucker for Neeson and I'm a sucker for spy films so it was a natural choice for me to find myself viewing.

Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife (Jones) are in Berlin for him to give a bio-tech speech at a technology conference. When an accident, with his taxi going straight up and over a damn bridge, gives hims a little head trauma and a bit of memory loss, Harris finds himself in a weird position. His wife doesn't know him and some other man seems to claim that he is the real Dr. Harris. When some mysterious folk appear and try to kill him, he decides enough is enough and he needs to solve this mystery once and for all. Is who he finds himself to be really what he wants, though? Jump in the Mystery van gang and lets find out!

"Unknown" is the type of film that seems to be caught in a purgatorial state. Is it a thriller? Is it an action move? It's both and neither at the same time. Unlike some films that can pull it off, "Unknown" seems to try and balance it out and fails to do so most of the time. The first half builds some nice atmosphere to get the thriller side going and the last half seems solidly focused on the action portion, but it never really combines the two well. This leaves "Unknown" feeling rather mediocre and unmemorable.

What "Unknown" does have going for it, is that a) it has a kick ass Neeson in it who has one super killer (read: cheesy) one liner at the end and b) has a pretty solid plot. Neeson is just a fun and demanding person to watch on screen and he does an admirable job with the relatively light character work he is give. This, of course, is due to the rather 'mysterious' plot that we are taken on a ride with. Not the greatest or most clever plot for a thriller, but it utilizes its settings well and gives a few solid twists to keep the viewer locked in.

One aspect of "Unknown" that needed to happen for it work better was its action sequences. Most are done in too dark of lighting and the director loves to use that quick edit/severe close up/modern look for them that just irritates the hell out of me. Half the time I couldn't tell what was really going on, despite some well set up moments. The car chase in particular bugged me as we never got to see the whole picture of what was going on. Take a hint new directors...this is not the proper way to set this shit up. Go watch some Woo or McTiernan and figure out a better way please.

All in all, "Unknown" was a fine little flick that tickled the fancy for an afternoon, but its far from the charm that "Taken" was or many modern spy thrillers. It's ultimately forgettable without enough elements to go right for it (like action scenes) and it doesn't utilize the Neeson factor to its full advantage.

BONUS RANT: To go along with its (mostly) mediocrity, the title for this film is just as forgettable as it is. Yeah, it works (just like the movie) but it doesn't grasp the viewer and take them for a ride like it could have (just like the movie).

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror - 1.5/5

Well filmmakers decided to reverse and go back down the valley after making headway with "Children of the Corn IV" deciding to go for a more dumbass approach with this fifth entry. I'm sorry but when you hire the guy who wrote and directed the notoriously bad sequel "House II: The Second Story" it doesn't bode well that your sequel is going to be any good.

A group of horny young adults that we could care less about run into a colony of insanely religious children led by creepy David Carradine. One of our characters recognizes the "religion" as it was what her brother talked about before running away. Now she is hell bent on risking her friends lives to see her brother and convince him to leave... but his new family isn't too keen on the idea.

Writer/director Ethan Wiley loads this film up with insanely dumb shit with plot holes big enough to drive a combine through. First off it doesn't reference any of the events of the previous films so it's safe to assume this is another completely new story into the franchise. The plot hole that gets me the most is our main character arrives in this town and is shocked to find out that her brother might be there. What? Unless the church that follows "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" has multi establishments throughout the midwest then that means she lived near this town hence her brother left to join the cult, yet she's never heard of it? Bullshit!

Other dumb plot moments includes our group coming across their car being firebombed by the hellish kids in the corn so they walk to the nearest house for help. Hello! Chances are this is the place where the people that torched your car live! To top it off they fucking go Goldilocks on the place by drinking their beer, eating their food and even having sex in their beds. Fuck, they might as well wear shirts that say "Kill me, we are jackasses". The most unintentionally funny moment is after all this shit with the children goes down, our main character reveals to her friend that her boyfriend committed suicide but she hid the note in order to protect her. Talk about an inopportune moment to drop the bomb! Oh there is also some funny shit involving an internal flame that the children keep burning in a silo to make sacrifices to.

Ethan Wiley doesn't seem to know what direction he wants to take the film in. He has some really silly moments and even casts cult actors Fred Williamson and David Carradine no doubt wanting to add to the fun. However he just makes the film unpleasant and completely wastes the talents of the cult cast he cultivated. Thanks for nothing Ethan!

This may not be the worst entry in the series but it still sucks. It doesn't know if it wants to be silly or serious and just comes out being unintentionally funny and unpleasant at the same time.... in sense it's just basically worthless. It was still a hit on video so more sequels were to come. Oh I forgot to mention this film also stars Alexis Arquette, yes the one that had a sex change operation no doubt to help people forget that he/she/it appeared in such drivel.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering - 2/5

The series was getting a little ridiculous with the last two entries so filmmakers decided to get back to the "Children of the Corn" basics and ignores all plot elements of the previous films and makes a "one off" in the series with a completely unconnected plot and a more serious tone. Is this why the title card in the film conveniently forgot the roman numeral "IV" to disconnect this film from the previous sequels? Nah... I just think it was a fuck-up by the title sequence creator.

College student Naomi Watts returns home to her small Midwestern home town (not Gatlin like in the previous films, it's a different town but the name escapes me) to help her delusional mother and younger siblings. Shortly after her arrival all the children in town come down with a fever and start losing teeth and going homicidal. It seems the spirit, ghost or whatever the fuck you want to call it of a dead child preacher has taken possession of the children to get vengeance.

I have to admire the filmmakers for trying to make the "Children of the Corn" franchise "scary" again (was it ever really scary?) with its more serious approach but the plot is so damn cliché it still hardly makes it worth watching. The film has predicable kills and gore and the ghostly preacher child is nothing more than Freddy Krueger clone by mixing reality and dreams...

...dreams, now that's an aspect this film goes way fucking overboard on! I lost count how many times and how many characters woke up from nightmares, or even dreams with in dreams. Okay... enough with the false dream scare bullshit!

Greg Spence tries to get around the cliché script with some nifty camera work and style and his style saved the film for me as he made it visually interesting enough to keep watching. It was also nice to see genre actor Karen Black make an appearance and she gives a good performance as the delusional mother going psychotic from her nightmares.

For the first entry in the series to go direct-to-video this surprisingly outdoes the uber silly and dumb second and third entries thanks to a more serious approach and some nice visual style (cutie Naomi Watts doesn't hurt either) but the cliché plot only makes this a must see for genre enthusiasts only. For me this is hands down the best sequel in the franchise... but then again that's not saying much.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Hercules Unchained - 2.5/5

With the 1958 version of "Hercules" being a worldwide success, it didn't take long for filmmakers to return with a sequel as "Hercules Unchained" followed the next year with beefcake actor Steve Reeves returning to the role that made him famous.

This sequel set up a formulaic plot that would be the model for many "Hercules" cash-ins to follow. What we got here is two women striving for the affection of our muscle bound hero. We get Hercules' wife returning form the first film and an evil queen who has taken control of Hercules' home city of Thebes. When Hercules travels to Thebes to stop the evil taking over, he loses his memory due to a spell and an evil queen convinces him that he is her husband. Now it's up to Hercules' real blond bombshell of a wife and friends to bring back his memory and in turn taking the evil corruption of the city down.

What helps this sequel is that most of the cast and crew from the original return (including future director extraordinaire Mario Bava as the director of photography). Because of this the film feels exactly like the first and only comes out being a hair worse, but not enough for me to knock down it down a star rating.

The plot and acting is unintentionally laugh enduing (enough for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to take a stab at mocking it) but compared to all the other peplum films that infected drive-ins at the time this is far ahead of the pack and is definite one of the highlights of the genre. Trust me if you think this film is bad, pick up a value pack of peplum films and you will find that I'm right in thinking so.

The highlight of the film for me was the climactic battle which was bigger in scale than anything featured in the first adventure. It's a large scale battle in which Hercules pulls down three towers. Definitely the highlight of the film.

If you enjoyed the original then there is no reason you shouldn't enjoy this sequel which follows in the same mold. It's got the same messy plot flow, the same silly dialogue, the same beefcake hero, the same curvy heroine, and same cheese effects and the same wonderful photography of Mario Bava.

Like its predecessor it was also a worldwide success and more official sequels were planned but actor Steve Reeves bowed out wanting to branch his horizons by taking on different roles... you know other muscle bound Greek mythology heroes. Way to branch out Reeves! Though no more official sequels were to follow a shit ton of unofficial ones did giving other body builders a chance to get their faces and pecks to appear on the big screen. Some consider the films "Hercules and the Captive Women" and "Hercules Against the Moon Men" to be "official" sequels but alas they are not and the quality of those cash-ins are an insult even to Steve Reeves two official B-fantasy epics.

Note: Like the original this film is in the public domain and many varying quality DVDs are available. I own the film both in a Mill Creek multifilm pack entitled "Clash of the Olympians" and a double feature from VCI with the first "Hercules." Both are full screen but the Mill Creek version has the scope screwed up making all the characters look skinny and tall. The VCI version is superior because at least the full screen transfer is framed properly.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Hercules (1958) - 2.5/5

Long before the Italian cult genres of spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, giallo and macaroni combat was the peplum, also known by the more derogatory term "sword and sandal". The peplum genre was jumpstarted by the American historic epics like "Spartacus" and mythical adventure films like "Jason and the Argonauts". The first release of the peplum genre is was the popular "Hercules", a film that established the genre inspiring hundreds of films similar in mold..

Despite being popular in back in the day, peplum films don't seem to be as popular with the Italian cult film crowd today when compared to other subgenre's like spaghetti westerns and gialli. Why is that? Is it due to the lack of gritty violence and other over-the-top tendencies or even for the homosexual undertones of seeing well built, greased up body builders? Well for my money it's because there truly isn't a great film in the genre. "Hercules" is considered the crème-de-le crème that the genre had to offer. It was the "Good the Bad and the Ugly" and "Deep Red" of the peplum genre. And to be honest it isn't that good.

Sure "Hercules" is entertaining enough as a B-fantasy film but it's far from great. Steve Reeves looks part of Hercules with his "Mr. Universe" physique but his acting, along with the rest of the cast is below par. The acting of course isn't the only problem with this "epic."

The narrative of the film is sloppy and it's hard to follow the disjointed plot as Hercules falls for a young princess and basically hired by her father to find the golden fleece that Jason and his Argonauts stole and along the way fights numerous foes and finds out the killers of the kings brother.

The plot of this film depends on the audience knowing the story of Jason and the Argonauts. If I never saw the popular American film, which actually came out after this, I would not know what the fuck was going on here as Hercules bounces around from situation to situation looking for the damn thing. Even though this came out four years before "Jason and the Argonauts" I recommend viewing that film before delving into "Hercules."

The special effects are also extremely laughable as Hercules and his soldiers fight bulls, lions an even a fucking dinosaur. I can't judge a film too harshly for below par special effects but boy oh boy does this wish for the day of Ray Harryhausen.

I enjoyed "Hercules" enough for what it was but let's be honest, it's a brainless fantasy film with a muscle bound hero sleepwalking through a poor flowing script making it just an "epic" B movie. This is why I believe the genre has never truly been embraced as no director was able to craft a great film out of the genre, despite future talented directors like Sergio Leone getting their start there. At the time though "Hercules" was an enormous success and much like popular names in the spaghetti western genre like Django and Sartana, Hercules would be followed by what seems like an infinite number of unofficial sequels starring other muscle bound men cashing in on the Herc name. Out of all those cash-in's, only one official sequel would be made with Steve Reeves returning to the role in "Hercules Unchained." The Italians would later reinvent the story of Hercules in the laugh educing 1983 remake starring Lou Ferrigno.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Blood Money [The Stranger and the Gunfighter] (1974) - 3.5/5

A spaghetti western and a kung fu film combined? I must be in heaven! Yes is the wild east meets the far east as this spaghetti western is an Italian co-production with legendary kung fu production company Shaw Brothers. So we get iconic spaghetti western actor Lee Van Cleef teamed up with Shaw Brothers Kung fu master Lo Lieh to give us a truly entertaining shoot 'em up chop socky western.

Newly arrived theif Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) gets falsely accused of murdering a wealthy Asian while visiting a small western town. Jump to Hong Kong and Ho Chiang (Lo Lie) is given a do-or-die mission to save his families honor to go to the west in order to discover the where-abouts of his uncle's fortune. He teams up with Dakota for help as they discover Chiang's uncle tattooed for separate ladies behinds (or as Cleef puts it... "asses"). Now they must convince four separate women to show them their luscious behinds before a psychotic religious nut beats them to the treasure.

The plot is hilarious and I found more genuine humor here than a lot of the forced humor in other spaghetti western films like the "Trinity" series. Cleef and Lie play off each other wonderfully. Neither may be at the top of their game (how could they with such stellar films as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "King Boxer" between the two of them?) but they both seem to be having fun with the subject matter.

Director Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson) is no stranger to the spaghetti western genre but surprisingly he seems to hold his own when it comes to directing the kung fu sequences. He seems to have no problem mixing the two genres, though in his favor the film is more of a spaghetti western as opposed to a kung fu film. Even with the mish-mash of these two genres he still as able to wonderfully craft humorous sequences that really got me openly to laugh. Like I've mentioned in other reviews I'm not a huge fan of spaghetti western comedies but the comedy touches he provides here work well.

"Blood Money" (originally released in the U.S. as "The Stranger and the Gunfighter") was a romp of a good time wonderfully mixing both the spaghetti western and kung fu film style elements. It's not a fantastic film by any means and doesn't wholly succeed as either a western or martial arts picture but as a mixture of both it's an entertaining piece of work and in my humble opinion one of the highlights of director Antonio Margheriti's career.

Loathed company VideoAsia released this lost gem on DVD. Cult film fanatics know this company as a shoddy bargain company that haphazardly throws together cult films via VHS transfers (sometimes unwatchable, beat up VHS transfers) into overpriced multifilm packs. "Blood Money" is, to my knowledge, the only film the company has released by itself and to be honest it's a surprisingly good transfer, anamorphic widescreen and all! Still it isn't perfect, as expected with VideoAsia as there are a few encoding glitches halfway through the film where the picture turns to blocks. Other than that this is BY FAR the best release Video Asia has ever unleashed and well worth a purchase for fans of this film.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, February 25, 2011

Death Race 2 - 1.5/5

"Death Race" may not have been a great film by any means but it had a lot of charm to it. It had Statham. It had high budget car wrecks. It had Paul W.S. Anderson directing. Unfortunately, "Death Race 2" has none of that. Luke Goss (who some may not recognize from his role as the villain in "Hellboy 2") does his damnedest to make this film work, but the fact of the matter is this: it just doesn't have the charming talent behind it that made the first one work.

Carl Lucas (Goss) works as a driver for a crime king pin Kane (Bean). When a bank robbery goes bad and he accidentally kills a cop, Lucas is sent to prison for life. At this prison he learns of a media out let that films and records inmates fighting each other. It doesn't take long for the media mongol (Rhames) to figure out a better way to pull ratings. Make the prisoners race in armored and armed vehicles. With the help of a Mexican Jew (oh yes you read that right, played by Trejo) and his friend Lists (Koehler), Lucas may just create a new legacy in prison. As the faceless driver Frankenstein.

If you couldn't tell from the synopsis, "Death Race 2" is actually a prequel. Yes. As if this film couldn't piss me off enough, its a prequel in disguise. So the title is misleading and poorly constructed. RIGHT OFF THE BAT I ALREADY DISLIKE THIS MOVIE.

Of course, we then actually move onto the film. The film's story was created by Paul W(hat the) S(hit) Anderson (although written by someone else), which means that the dialogue is horrible enough to punch your ear drums out of your head and it runs the gauntlet of hitting every bad sequel cliche out there. Semi-heroic anti hero lead? Mob connections? Racist prison cliches? All here. Once again, Anderson seems to crash on the story without the charm of his directing even though Reine does his best with what he has. Pass.

After the initial capture of our lead, the film seems to go straight into carbon copy territory. Replace some of the races with hand to hand (and a flame thrower) fighting and its the same damn movie on its foundations. Little changes here and there, but essentially its the same movie. At least it feels that way. Even adding in cult favorites Trejo (whose given some awful lines), Rhames (who just saunters around with a cigar in his mouth for the film), and Bean (who looks worn and has a shitty scene where he throws a TV) couldn't save this film.

Yeah, it still has some fun (and outrageous) moments with the race and the fight sequences. It's nice to see Liu Kang...err...Robin Shou have a larger role, but still the film just falls apart under scrutiny. As a bad sequel it succeeds in being completely ignorant of its pitfalls, but with the right mentality one might get a kick from it. Otherwise, its merely a cheap rental. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest - 1.5/5

After suffering through "Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice" I predictably wasn't too enthusiastic going into this third entry into the overlong franchise. Is it bad? Sure it is and that should be expected but unlike the second film this sequel embraces it's tackiness (to an extent) and still manages to have some fun by going more over-the-top with its overly silly subject matter... and in turn at the same time burying Stephen King's original premises under more piles of corn-filled shit.

Like the subtitle promises this time the plot comes to the city as two boys, who were members of the children cult from the bible belt who worshiped "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", get adopted by a wealthy inner city couple. The youngest brother Eli starts worrying his new parents when all he does is preach and secretly plant a corn patch in an abandoned factory behind their yard. Soon Eli is causing all sorts of supernatural chaos and killing anyone who uncovers secrets of his past and his future plans. Soon he is converting all the children at his local school to his "religion" and it's up to his stepbrother to stop him before he takes the neighborhood straight to hell.

The cast is pretty typical for this type of film and Daniel Cerny actually does a good job as the devilishly evil Eli, a characters surprisingly similar to his demonic character in "Demonic Toys." For this type of film the acting is just fine.

Director James D. R. Hickox makes his film debut here and he takes lessons from his brother Anthony Hickox (director of the "Waxwork" films, "Warlock II" and "Hellraiser III") by taking a light tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject. I mean really could anyone really take a film seriously that climaxes with a demonic beast with roots in the soil that tears victims apart and even eats children via silly miniature effects? I think not so he keeps his tongue in his cheek and gives the audience some silly effects and over-the-top gore moments (one that even includes a student getting his spinal cord ripped out only it happens to be 12 feet long!).

Though he takes a less-than-serious approach to the subject matter the plot still has too many moments that tend to piss me off. Here the film actually has the corn itself being a special type that grows at an accelerated rate and anywhere it's planted it brings an evil slimy monster in the ground. Eli even has plans to convince his stepfather to ship the corn around the world to spread the evil. Really? I thought having mold that drove children mad in the second film was a stretch but this is ridiculous!

Even with its slight tongue-in-cheek approach the film still comes out too damn silly and downright stupid to be highly entertaining horror. It's definitely better than part 2 but I can't go so far as to recommend this sequel other than to the most hardcore and forgiving "Children of the Corn" fans. Did you love it? Well don't worry there are four more sequels to go! (to the date of this review that is)

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ong Bak 3 [Ong Bak 3: The Final Battle] - 2/5

Originally, both "Ong Bak 2" and "Ong Bak 3" were supposed to be one film. I could go into the weird circumstances (which eventually lead to Tony Jaa to now be living in a monastery at the time of this review) of why these films are now two separate releases, but really that would take too long. As is, you can read my review of the rather fun first part by clicking the link on "Ong Bak 2" and then come back to this one.

Tien (Jaa) has been captured by the evil king that he has sworn to destroy at the end of "Ong Bak 2". Tortured to the point of death, he is miraculously saved by another random king. Now is a time for him to put aside his vengeance and hatred filled heart and truly embrace the light. He retrains his body and soul from scratch, only to find out his nemesis has been slain by the mystic crow fighter who is now terrorizing all the people of the land. If he is to defeat this evil mystic, Tien must let go of his past sins and move forward with his life. A life that is leading to one final showdown.

"Ong Bak 3" is a substantial let down even in comparison to its predecessor, but at least it still has plenty of kick ass action sequences to tide over us Martial Arts fans. Otherwise, its a rather poorly told Buddhist philosophy flick that rarely makes sense and takes too much time being over ridiculous to be take that seriously. The acting is really hit or miss and it ruins what should have been some great moments (his potential suicide on the cliff face for example). The score is over zealous and many moments are ruined from trying to make it too epic.

The plot seems to be trapped in a purgatorial state of being the extended cut of "Ong Bak 2" and being a true sequel. I watched "2" prior to viewing this one and I still had trouble making the connections I needed to for this film to work. Luckily, we get a ton of flashbacks (that start off very cheesy) to help us out. As a film on its own, it doesn't explain near enough for it to work, and as a sequel it feels like its poorly built on its plot execution. We don't nearly get enough of a build for the battle between Tien and the crow fighter and rarely is enough of Tien's journey expressed for us to truly want him to succeed. I'm sure if they ever release a version where "2" and "3" are edited back together, it will certainly redeem this film.

As I mentioned, "Ong Bak 3" does succeed at making some seriously cool action sequences. We saw him use lots of weapons in "2", but this one returns to his bone breaking beat downs and adds in a new more fluid martial art style to give us a rather cool comparison for a final battle. We get more elephant leaping fights, great hand to hand beat downs, and plenty more of the flighty aerobatics from the villain. If there is anywhere that a Tony Jaa film cannot fail, its the fight sequences. Those are what give this film its rating.

In the end, its easy to tell that this film was supposed to be part of "2". This one lacks too much for it to work on its own merits, despite some attempts to make it a true sequel with flash backs and its own 'story' concerning the rise of the crow fighter. It has great fights and some snazzy visual flair at times, but its rather poorly explained plot and over-the-top style make it a tough watch. Definitely waiting to see if they release a version with "2" and "3" put back together.

BONUS RANT: This film loves to fuck with the audience in 'dream sequences'. There is one with the original king and a nightmare with stone elephants that goes on FAR too long, but the kicker is the final fight scene which actually never occurs. Or maybe it does and Tien turns back time. Or something. It was really confusing at the end of why it happened. Oh well. We did get to see a guy struck by random lighting at the end of it either way. Score for random lightning even if it doesn't make a lick of sense. Oh and we see an elephant hurl a giant statue too. Score for that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Disappearance Of Alice Creed, The - 4.5/5

When I found out that lead actress Gemma Arterton, who plays Alice Creed in this thriller, was also in "Prince Of Persia", "Quantum Of Solace", and "Clash Of The Titans" I nearly didn't watch it. Damn, that's a tough track record. Luckily, "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed" is stunningly built on basics with the subtlety of a great drama and the tension of a great thriller. Not to mention, Arterton puts all those previous (and post) roles to shame.

Two men, Vic (Marsan) and Danny (Compston) have a very well thought through plan. It's simple. Kidnap the daughter Alice (Arterton) of a millionaire and ask for 2 million pounds for her back. Their devotion seems unshakable and their planning impeccable. But not is all what it seems. Soon the threads in the plan begin to unravel. The threads between these two ex-cons unravel. A picture perfect plan has gone quickly down the drain.

The simplicity of this film is the foundation for which to build some serious execution. 3 actors. About 5 locations (not counting the initial 'set up' as our two men meticulously purchase the items for this event). Limited dialogue. This film truly takes a basic script and flourishes it with fantastic visual flair, tension that can be broken with the sound of a person blinking, and some seriously stunning performances. It's fascinating to see a modern thriller that doesn't place the focus on the build for the twists and just makes the film feel like its playing out naturally.

This is perhaps "Alice Creed"'s greatest asset. The natural feeling of the film. Its completely believable in all of its plot shifts and twists (some of which are a complete shock) and the subtlety of its character builds and execution make it feel like we are truly watching everything happen in true time. How it makes you truly blur your own lines for 'wrong/right'. How it works on your nerves as things start to unravel. Who to even root for. It's all built so evenly, the film simply sucks one in and never lets go until the final moments.

J Blakeson just might be the new Guy Ritchie. His style is slick and visually arresting. Combing that with an amazing score, great design, and a trio of actors that inhabit the moment it makes "Alice Creed" one of the best thrillers in the modern age. It's simplicity allows this film to just go and for some films like this, it was the best thing possible. Sorry, "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", but eat your heart out. "Creed" just might have beaten you out.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, February 21, 2011

Choke Canyon [On Deadly Ground] - 2.5/5

It's a good thing Cod Red DVD released this film with its more popular "Choke Canyon" title on the box artwork as opposed to the film's original title (the one also present on the title card) "On Dangerous Ground" as god forbid someone mistakes this average action film for the dreadful Steven Seagal film of similar namesake "On Deadly Ground. Unlike THAT film, this is not a horrible action picture which is surprising considering Italian mastro-of-shit Ovidio G. Assonitis, the man behind stinkers like "Beyond the Door" and "The Curse" produced and even wrote it.

Choke Canyon is a special area near the Grand Canyon for cowboy physicist David Lowell (Stephen Collins) as the sound waves are unique in the ravine for aiding in his quest to produce energy from sound. Some corporate bigwigs have other plans as they want the sight to illegally bury toxic waste and when Lowell refuses to sell, they wreck his lab and attempt to murder him. Lowell doesn't take kindly to their trespassing so he starts making their life a living hell by blowing up buildings and kidnapping the CEOs daughter. The corporation bounces back by hiring mercenary Bo Svenson but can Lowell take his lab and land back before Haley's Comet passes over delivering the sound waves he needs?

The plot is a bunch of mumbo jumbo that only Ovidio could cook up. It's just silly, far-fetched and hokey at times. What saves this film is the surprisingly good action sequences and the solid cast. Stephen Collins would not be the first actor I would pick for an action hero but he does shockingly well here. His character is smart, confident, kind-hearted yet forceful when he needs to be. Collins totally dismayed the hell out of me with how well he pulled the role off. Lance Henrickson and Bo Svenson are also heavy weight actors in lesser roles as a corporate goon and the mercenary and cult film enthusiasts will love the addition of them.

Though the actors and characters are solid they make far too many irrational decisions and actions for me to believe. Lowell, who is a scientist all for making peaceful energy, uses extreme acts of violence and even kidnapping to get his land back. Why use so much violence when your against it in the first place? The kidnapping portion also seems to go against character for him. Svenson's mercenary also starts off majorly badass but he really ends up being a total fuck-up and really isn't much of a challenge for Lowell. Lowell defeats him far too easily too many times to make their match-ups intriguing.

The action sequences are really hit and miss. The film has some really terrific stunt work, especially when it comes to planes and helicopters but a few of the stunts hit a little too close to "Cannonball Run" for my taste. Some of the stunts look too staged and really add nothing to the plot other than to say "look what we can do". A little less "Cannonball Run" approach to the stunts and they would have been remarkable.

Overall "Choke Canyon" is an interesting forgotten action films from the mid-80s. Not a great film by any means, hell not even particularly good one but the great cast and solid pace and stunts makes this worth a hunt for fans of the obscure.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Night Of The Demons 2 - 2.5/5

Although the original 1988 "Night Of The Demons" was a fun campy romp on the 'haunted' house genre, the inevitable sequel "Night Of The Demons 2" spends far too much time on sex jokes and bad dialogue to work quite as well as its predecessor. Although it has its moments of hilarious one liners and some damn fine special effects, the balance to make it work is out of whack and it lends this sequel towards the disappointment end of the franchise pool.

Six years after Angela's (Kinkade) party at the haunted Hull House went horribly wrong, her sister Melissa (Kennedy) is now an orphan living at a religious school. When a group of hormone engaged teens decide to sneak out of the school and pull a prank on Melissa, they accidentally resurrect Angela The Demon Princess. Now Angela has a plan and it requires her sister to enact. Can these dimwit teens and a hard ass sister of the cloth take down one of Hell's worst nightmares and her minions to save Melissa?

Although its hard to admit that the original "Night Of The Demons" was a good movie, it had the right idea of getting the campy humor to work with some legit scare tactics. This sequel doesn't fair so well in this department. Rarely do the scares work. The final act of the film, when they all head over to Hull House to save Melissa from a fate worse than the movies dialogue, does some nice things visually to bring back some creepy vibes but it rarely works on the 'scare' level. There are some great special effects (with particular nod to Angela's final snake like transformation at the end) but it doesn't save it from being rather lackluster in the Horror side. Great ideas, but poor execution on this end.

The film also seems pretty hit or miss on the humor too. After the first 30 minutes of relentless sex jokes and rather cliche religious funny fodder, I was ready to just mute the damn thing. Despite the occasionally solid one liner and over the top slapstick joke that worked (the demon playing basketball with his head was so dumb it was hilarious), the film just comes off more awkward then truly humorous. Unintentional humor abounds here on random things, like hands that reach through a demon's breasts to grab a guy, but it never really tickles the funny bone like the first one did with its cliche homages.

"Night Of The Demons 2" starts trying to become its own franchise instead of one that homages and builds on the cliches of 80s horror. It has some solid moments and ends on a rather strong note, but getting past the first half of the film will surely be a struggle. Poor dialogue, worse acting, and a mismatched sense of horror/comedy plagues this film to be lesser than its predecessor.

BONUS RANT: [Spoiler] This film likes to throw very random things into the mix without ever explaining them. The one that takes the cake is how our kick ass Sister of the Lord randomly grows a head back after being decapitated by Angela. You read that right. Pow. Head flies off. Body drops to floor. Pop. New head (with head gear and all) pops out of the shoulders. No one questions a damn thing. Except me, I guess. Soooooo random. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fifth Element, The - 4/5

Luc Besson will always draw me in. No matter what, he seemingly produces/directs/writes films that I enjoy. One of the highlights of his career happens to be the spastic and comic book inspired science fiction flick "The Fifth Element". Although the film is done completely tongue-in-cheek with a crayola crayon inspired futuristic look and relatively little to be included as 'depth' to its plot, its a blast to watch and the pure fun of its ridiculousness is only amped by a successful cast and its lack self editing. "The Fifth Element" may not be the most realistic or 'good' film out there, but its self aware cheese and lightning pacing make for one of my favorite film experiences.

Korben Dallas (Willis) is a down on his luck ex-military man trying to make ends meet as a flying cab driver in 23rd century New York. When a mysterious orange haired woman (Jovovich) falls into his cab, literally, he is put on a new path in his life. With the help of a priest (Holm) and the shrieking radio diva Ruby Rhod (Tucker), Dallas must take this girl and find 4 stones combing the five elements into a weapon to destroy the ultimate evil. With the vicious Zorg (Oldman) on his tail and some ugly terrorist aliens, these guys have a lot to go against. Not to mention the fate of the entire universe rests in their hands.

Besson must have had a lot of fun with this film. The tenacious and over the top aspects of "The Filth Element" all work in a synchronicity that can only be achieved when all parts of the film making process fall into place. Besson truly grabs the rather out of this world plot and takes it there with stellar costume and art designs and a cast and crew that 'get it'. "The Fifth Element" is exciting, funny, and just plain fun to watch. Even though its rather depth-less plot (which they try to deepen with surface level issues on 'why should humanity even survive' questions) never gets the meaning it could have used, this film succeeds on most other levels.

It must be mentioned that the casting of this film is pretty brilliant. We get actors and actresses that normally annoy the hell out of me (Jovovich, Tucker) placed perfectly and used to their full potentials to make it work. Hearing Jovovich spew her 'divine language' in full speed mode is a riot to watch and even Tucker is able to channel his high pitched shenanigans into a character that is so annoying its hilarious to see with the stone cold and sarcastic Willis doing what he does best. Even Oldman and Holm get into the spirit with their over the top costumes (that are taken so seriously) its hard not to smile the entire film.

With an artistic vision of pure cartoon-ish vibes, outrageous plot/script work, and a perfectly picked cast "The Fifth Element" truly embraces itself for what it is. And it succeeds at it. Don't go into this film expecting a more vibrant "Blade Runner" or anything - you will hate it then - but take it for its cheesy glory and run with. It's a blast to watch and Besson at some of his best. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice - 1/5

In the early nineties Dimension films acquired the rights to the "Hellraiser" and "Children of the Corn" franchises and boy they didn't sit on them like New Line Cinema did when they acquired the "Friday the 13th" franchise. Dimension sequelized the hell out of both series. "Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice" would be the first of 6 sequels (with a seventh in the works) the company produced up until the time I write this review. After re-watching "Children of the Corn II" for the first time since I was a kid it's hard to believe 5 more sequels would follow as this sequel is worse than having a corncob stuck up the ass.... again.... and again.

Taking place mere hours after the events of the first film, we are now introduced to a snotty, foul mouthed teenage asshole and his down-on-his-luck dead beat dad moving to the mangled town not seeming too concerned that cops and paramedics are everywhere picking up bodies. Yes I understand the father NEEDS the job but holy hell.... turn the fuck around! No job is worth living in a town where all the children killed the fucking adults! Since the leader child Isaac "died" the first time around, we now are introduced to new leader "Micah" and predictably the children start killing the adults all over again.

"Children of the Corn" was hardly a great film (one might even call it a poor Stephen King adaption) but it had a charm about it and a solid cast of actors with even the children coming across threatening and scary at moments. Here it's a god damn joke. The acting is wretched, the script tepid and cliché, and the death scenes are insulting. Highlights include a women getting crushed by her house ala "Wizard of Oz" (the writers even have the gall to have her mutter "what a world" before she goes splat), a guy having a nose bleed from hell (via voodoo doll) and even a women in a scooter being rammed through a window. The worst part is the crackerjack story which adds the twist that mold growing on the stored corn harvest drove the children mad. What?! These writers seem to be throwing shit at the wall just to see what sticks.

Director David Price is almost non-existent giving the film a flat, direct-to-video look despite this corn cob of shit getting a theatrical release. He can't direct his actors and mixed with a shitty script he churns out a another completely pointless sequel to a film that really didn't deserve one, let alone a franchise.

Perhaps in a different mood I would have enjoyed "Children of the Corn II" more as an unintentional comedy but I will be honest and in saying I loathed it and it annoyed the living shit out of me. It's just another pointless crummy sequel that I seem hell bent on wasting my time on. Even being a complete turd this is one of the most highly prized DVDs horror fans can hunt down. Why is the DVD so rare? Well in the early days of Dimension Films they partnered with Paramount to distribute their movies (this along with "Hellraiser III"). Due to this contractual issue neither Paramount nor Dimension is able to release it on DVD (a similar problem occurred with "Hellraiser III" which was released on DVD for a short time and quickly went out of print). "Children of the Corn II" was released on DVD in Canada from a company called Top Ten Media but it also quickly went out of print and only occasionally appears on eBay. I was lucky enough to score this DVD, along with the other sequels, at a pawn shop for pennies so I plan to waste plenty of more time on this lame series.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2 - 2/5

Sequels are always a tough thing to get right. When its a prequel/sequel for a 'found footage' ghost film, then damn...they have a lot of work to do to make it fit. Fortunately, "Paranormal Activity 2" pulls off some well laid plans to actually make it work as a prequel/sequel with some clever story twists to make it better than expected. To its fault, the expectations were very low and it wasn't even close to blowing them out of the water.

Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat) weren't the first ones to be haunted by the mysterious ghost-ish demon. Turns out its Katie's sister and her family that were haunted/terrorized first. After the birth of their first son together, Kristi (Grayden) and Dan (Boland) start experiencing some seriously weird phenomenon in their house. It would seem like a ghost/demon of sorts has a bone to pick with them. I guess they should...well...sort know...figure something out...or something. And uh. Yeah. Did you see "Paranormal Activity"? Same diff.

Despite some very worthy attempts at creating a further expanding "Paranormal Activity" universe by extending some of the subtle hints and plot elements of the first film, "Paranormal Activity 2" is basically rehash. Although this wouldn't normally be such a bad thing (the first one was surprisingly fresh and interesting), but it lacks the surprise and grasp on the 'real feel' that the original one did. It lacks the jump scares. It lacks the atmosphere. It lacks the mystery. Because WE HAVE SEEN IT BEFORE. It doesn't do enough to make it new. Thusly we get the same rehashed scare tactics but with less enthusiasm. So what if we have a dog and baby now? So what if we have more camera angles? It's all gimmicks in the end and doesn't recapture the feel that made the first one more than a low budget horror flick.

What expansion it does with the story is nice though. Seeing as its a prequel for 4/5 of the film (Note the addition of "2" in the title when its not really a sequel and the irritation it creates in me. End note.) it does its best to create more mystery and add more subtle attempts at deepening the reasons for this occurrence. It works for the most part and the addition of having Katie and Micah reprise their roles was nice. Other than that though, its pretty much same old same old here.

"Paranormal Activity 2" was better than I expected, but far from being the prequel/sequel that it could have been. They were going to be walking a fine line to begin with for this film and unfortunately they couldn't quite pull it off. It still has its moments and as a rental it was an interesting way to spend the evening, but not necessarily worth the hype it inherited. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, February 14, 2011

Invisible Man, The (1933) - 4.5/5

James Whale was the hot director in Hollywood after his enormous success with "Frankenstein" in 1932. Universal wanted him to direct a sequel right away but he really didn't have the ambition too and instead convinced the company to produce a film version of the H.G. Wells science fiction masterpiece "The Invisible Man" making history in both special effects and how to blend both effects and high drama together successfully.

Our film opens atmospherically with a gauze bandaged man with goggles making his way into a pub and motel during a blizzard. This queer individual is peculiar and demanding and his attitude gets him evicted upon which he unveils his true nature of being rendered invisible due to some experimentation he tested on himself. Now he has gone completely made, killing people at random and using an old colleague to aid him on his insane conquest to bring anarchy to the UK.

James Whale's marvelous early 30s style of filmmaking is peaking at this point with wonderfully set up and filmed sequences utilizing the best that black and white film stock has to offer. He also is able to masterfully blend in amazing optical special effects that hold up even to this day. Though the effects are truly amazing, they don't take away from the true human drama of the plot as our mad scientist grows increasingly senile into megalomania as time goes on with his invisibility.

Claude Rains became an instant star after "The Invisible Man" but surprisingly he isn't even revealed until the last few moments. Through most of the picture he has to act with his body language and voice as his face is covered up with bandages. Rains has a amazing voice and when he cackles with glee at the horrors he is causing one truly believes this man is truly insane.

Typical in Whale fashion he surrounds his main stars with colorful secondary characters who bring a lot of charm and even humor to the story (fans will recognize the shrieking women later in Whale's sequel "Bride of Frankenstein"). This humor slant is something Whale loved to play with and he injects it perfectly even in terrifying sequences, like our invisible man chasing a woman down the street only clad in a pair of slacks while singing a song. Horrific and yet comical at the same time.

Much like Universal's "The Mummy" closely resembled their adaption of "Dracula", "The Invisible Man" also closely resembles "Frankenstein" so much so that one might feel déjà vu. Both mad scientists prefers to work alone, away from family and colleagues. Both leave beautiful fiancées at home wondering where their loved one is. Hell both films even end with a mob trying to burn the monster out of a building. This commonality between the two films is the only aspect I can rag on but it hardly hinders it from being an all time classic.

"The Invisible Man" is a truly amazing cinemamatic experience that holds up surprisingly well even today with it's wonderful practical optical special effects (techniques that remained unchanged for decades until the invention of CGI) and its solid filmmaking. Universal sure knew how to make great movies back in the day and I can just imagine how "Invisible Man" awed audiences in the 30s. Of course it was a huge success and like most of Universals other successful "monsters" the "Invisible Man" became a franchise followed by four sequels ("The Invisible Man Returns", "The Invisible Woman", "Invisible Agent", "The Invisible Man's Revenge") and a spin-off comedy with Abbott and Costello. With all the sequels , spin-offs, remakes and copy-cats there still hasn't been a film about invisibility yet to match the power of Universal's original.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Jocks (1986) - 1/5

Out of the primordial slime that began with "Porky's" and "Revenge of the Nerds" emerged hundreds of knock-offs riding the coat-tails of those successes. Most of these teen sex comedies, except of the afore two mentioned, are completely worthless other than some on screen skin. One of these hundreds of worthless knockoffs is "Jocks" but it's even worse than most of its competitors as it doesn't even have the decency to offer it's intended teenage boy crowd the nudity they crave.

"Jocks" is about a college tennis team (yeah, because when I think of the term "Jocks" I think of fucking tennis!) that is on the verge having their program shut down. They travel to Las Vegas for the playoffs and while trying to make up for all the hijinks they cause, try to win the playoffs and save the tennis program.

"Jocks" is plain and simple NOT funny. Our main lead tries to be a loveable screw-up but he's completely uninteresting. The plot moves at a snail's pace resulting in boring the predominantly male audience into sleep without even giving them the nudity they expect. The filmmakers even try to mimic the success of "Revenge of the Nerds" by casting actor Donald Gibb (who played ogre in "Nerds") as a similar, yet painfully unfunny character named Ripper.

What's a damn shame is that this film is loaded with great actors, some to come and some towards the end of their career. We get R.G. Armstrong, Christopher Lee and Richard Roundtree in throw away roles but fans of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" might want to watch to see a very young Mariska Hargitay, who is just smokin' hot. Make this a double feature with "Ghoulies" to get your fill your young Mariska.

"Jocks" sucks and it just makes me cringe to see good actors such as Lee and Armstrong wading through this sludge to claim their paychecks. Even on the most basic levels of a 80s teen sex comedy "Jocks" fails to deliver and this lame film deserves to be lost in the sea of bargain multi-film DVD sets.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

For Y'ur Height Only - 2/5

What we got here is a truly bizarre Bond spoof from our trashy filmmakers in the Philippines. It's so damn bizarre that only the likes of Mondo Macabro would unleash this film on DVD and I thank them as, like expected, this pint size film delivers 20 feet of entertainment value.

Agent 00, Philippines top secret agent who measures only 3.5 feet tall, is out to stop a drug ring. Along the way he kills a lot of goons, dances with women and uses weird gadgets to aid in his mission. Not much more to the plot than that.

I will be honest, Four Y'ur height only is quite badly made. The film has horrible jarring editing, bad acting, laughable dubbing and really no plot to speak of. The only thing interesting this film has going for it is it's pint size hero and they exploit his height to the max here by having our ass high spy being thrown into to all sorts of awkward and laugh educing situations where he kisses ladies, karate chops badies and constantly slides across the floor "hurting his little head" to blow scum away. I kid you not this little guy slides across the floor to shoot guys at least a half a dozen times!

Weng Weng plays our 3.5 foot agent and it's obvious the film was written around his vertically challenged deficiency as this guy sadly can't act worth a shit. Hell he barely has any lines throughout the entire film and when he does the horrible high pitched dubbing makes one's face crack open with laughter. Weng Weng also, not to be overly mean, looks pretty damn creepy especially with his forward comb over making every situation he gets in just that much more awkward. Mix that with some lifted James Bond music and your guaranteed to have some great laughs.

For Y'ur Height Only is a very badly made film that's only purpose is to exploit the size of its main star and exploit it does well as it has endless entertainment value for the trashy film crowd. Should I be ashamed by saying I enjoy a little man in a 70s polyester suit with a forward comb over running around with gadgets and gizmos and sliding across floors killing guys? I don't know but damn it is entertaining. This is a must for fans of the extremely bizarre and obscure. Alcohol is recommended to "heighten" the entertainment value. Get it? Heighten? Fuck I kill myself sometimes :-)

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Horde, The - 4/5

Despite the mixed reviews that France's "The Horde" had received, many recommendations came for the zombie flick and eventually I was able to get my hands on a copy. In all honesty, I loved it. Not a perfect film, but its energy and sheer adrenaline pumping pace make for one hell of a watch. It's modern zombie film details layered upon old school zombie survival foundations with some serious French patented brutality in tow. Not the best out there, but its a blast.

A group of police officers with a reluctant officer in the midst go on a revenge spree against a group of shady gangsters in a semi-abandoned building on the outskirts of a major unnamed French city, when they find the entire plan shot to hell. Turns out judgment day is upon them and a horde of zombies have the abandoned building surrounded. Now cops and robbers must team up to get to the bottom of the building and out alive...if they don't kill each other first.

France has put out some solid material in the Horror genre. Even the hit and miss "Mutants" (another zombie flick) was solid and enjoyable. Where that film was purely modern in its zombie isolated edge, "The Horde" rides a nice line between the new style and the old, which is where it succeeds. Like the great early zombie films from Romero, the interaction between our struggling survivors is what really makes "The Horde" such an entertaining watch. Although I would have liked more of a build up for some of the characters, a half hour more would have sufficed, its the tension between the cops and the gang that really makes the film palpable. The first 20 minutes feel more like a crime drama film and it would have been nice to carry over some of that build to later on instead of hopping straight onto the zombie chaos train. It works for what it is, but it feels like it could have been more later on.

As for the zombie chaos train, "The Horde" surely exceeds the needs for that. Once this film starts booking it with the violence and intense zombie attacks it truly does it. Thanks to some of that insane French brutality (the first zombie attack is damn ridiculous with the bullet spray and gore!), this film really grasps that modern zombie injection of intensity. Would have liked to see some of that CGI gore taken out, particularly when shit hits the fan at the end, but the rest is kicking and this film really knows how to use its zombie madness to hit all the right spots.

The film isn't perfect as it lacks some of the depth it could have dealt out with its strong characters and their interactions, but its sprint pacing and and visual flair for the brutal (and occasionally dark humored) make it a rather beastly watch. Fans of the zombie genre will definitely get excited for it even if it isn't all that original.

BONUS RANT: Why the hell does every one in the damn building carry an arsenal of weaponry? Obviously, its a bad neighborhood, but who the hell carries a sub machine gun in their apartment? Or grenades? Or that much ammo? I'll go with it since it gives our protagonists plenty to blast with, but it is a little much. Even for this guy. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fright Night Part 2 - 3/5

"Fright Night" was a huge success in 1985 and the 80s being the decade for sequels it was no surprise a follow-up was soon to hit theaters. Like most sequels it has big shoes to fill in comparison to the first entry and though not as good, to be honest this isn't a bad sequel at all and deserves a little more credit than most horror fans give it.

After slaying the vampire neighbor Jerry Dandrige, our teen horror film buff/vampire slayer Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale reprising the role) is in therapy and his therapist has convinced his feeble mind that it was all in his head. Brewster, now in college, has a smokin' hot and school focused girlfriend in the form of mega-hot Traci Lind (damn all that hair is sexy!) but becomes tempted to the dark side by a seductive bloodsucker (Julie Carmen) that just happens to be the sister of the previous vampire he slayed. Aided by numerous minions (including a werewolf type..err bloodsucker if that makes sense) it's now up to his girlfriend and his old partner in crime horror film host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, also reprising the role) to save him from a bloodsucking fate.

What makes this sequel work is the chemistry between Ragsdale and McDowell which seems as fresh as the first film. Julie Carmen is also good replacement for Chris Sarandon being just as charming and sensual, just this time in the female form. The plot, typical with sequels, is essentially a carbon copy only changing the location and the vampire to a female so don't go into this expecting anything really new.

Director Tommy Lee Wallace, earlier protégé of John Caprenter, takes the reins of this sequel. Wallace, in my eyes, is a second rate horror director. Not bad mind you but he seems the go to guy to direct sequels (he also directed "Halloween III" and "Vampires 2"), films without much originality. He does a decent job but he lacks the finesse to the subject matter that Tom Holland so brilliantly displayed in the original.

The plot also has a few moments that tend to annoy me. There are a few plot twists, especially one involving the therapist, that grate my nerves and I really despise the vampire chick on roller skates. Really?! I'm sorry but no matter how good the makeup effects are vampires on roller skates AREN'T SCARY!

Despite some plot elements that annoy me and for the fact and film starts to lose steam towards the end, "Fright Night Part 2" is still overall an enjoyable sequel that may not knock the socks of fans of the original but will definitely be worth a watch for the reteaming of Ragsdale and McDowall and the nifty special effects.

The out-of-print Artisan DVD release for the film is one of the most highly sought after OOP discs for collectors. I originally bought mine for $10 and sold it for $60 assuming it was going to come back into print. BIG MISTAKE. Two years later I had to shell out $40 to rebuy the damn thing but I still made a $20 profit. Good thing I rebought it when I did as it has really jumped in price and a re-release doesn't look like it will be anytime soon as there are copyright issues between Lionsgate Films (who bought out Artisan) and the film's co-production company Sony (under their Tri-Star branch). Hopefully this problem can be resolved soon so fans don't have to pay exorbitant prices for this not-too-shabby sequel.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Twice Dead - 1/5

Oh boy is this a doozy of a haunted house thriller from the Roger Corman factory. Sure the poster art looks promising enough but Corman was always good at getting talented artists to make appealing poster artwork in order to suck unsuspecting audiences into the theater. In the 70s most of his productions were good cheese even if the eye catching poster artwork lied just a hair. By the late 80s most of his productions were pure junk only appealing to the trashy crowd but by god they still had good poster artwork. I will admit I enjoy some of his trashy late 80s offerings like “Bloodfist” and “Terror Within” but most tend to be along the lines of “Twice Dead”, which is a definite D.O.A.

A family inherits a old mansion in a very seedy, dangerous part of L.A. and Punks don’t take kindly to their invasion to their hideout. Unbeknown to them a famous actor from the 1930s committed suicide in the house also doesn’t take kindly to their invasion. Now our lovable family has to fight a two fronted war by taking on dangerous gangs and a vengeful spirit.

This cheapo wanna be haunted house thriller has bad acting, a bad script, bad effects and to top it off it can’t keep it’s plot straight. The intentions of the spirit are never made clear. First it tries to kill off family members, then it protects them, then it wants to kill them again. This ghost is worse than a PMSing wife off her bipolar meds. What the fuck does it want!

What pisses me off even more is that I actually like a few of the cast members. It has the guy from the lovable B-movie “The Brain” and the cutsy girl from “Night of the Creeps” as brother and sister. Even they can’t bring this tired, cliche film up to speed.

"Twice Dead" has a cliche, confused plot with bad acting and poor gore effects. This twists are dumbfounding and worst of all its just completely forgettable. No Roger Coman B-movie charm for this dud. Thankfully it was included in a double feature DVD with an actual decent haunted house thriller in the form of “The Evil” so I can just pretend this was a bonus. Not worth hunting down and I say pass this one on by.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Any Gun Can Play - 3.5/5

Italian director extraordinaire Enzo G. Castellari made a huge name for himself with superior action films in numerous cult genres including macaroni combat and polizetteschi crime thrillers. Like most of his brethren he got his start in the infamous spaghetti western genre with “Any Gun Can Play” being first solo directing effort proving he had an eye for action even at the earliest stages in his career.

The plot is a variation on the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” theme where three completely different individuals come together in order get a load of money. Edd Byrnes plays a banker in charge of the loot that gets stolen of a train. Gilbert Roland is the leader of a gang of bandits that robbed the train of it’s bank load of gold. George Hilton is a bounty hunter on the trail of Roland for his ever increasing amount on his head. All three become entangled with their greed for the gold... but can they trust each other to pull it off or will each succumb to their personal greed?

The best part about this early spaghetti western is Enzo’s eye for dynamic camera angles. Even in this, his earliest film, his work in inspirational with bizarre camera angles abound, like having the camera show through the train engines cattle guard and even up through bridges. Some really great shots here.

All the actors are also appealing with George Hilton stealing the show as the lovable smartass bounty hunter who roams around smirking making him questionable whether he is trustworthy or not. Edd Byrnes has a little too much boyish charm for my taste of spaghetti western stars but thankfully his character isn’t supposed to be the strong silent type so he was casted appropriately

My main beef is that Enzo doesn’t seem to know exactly how he wants to approach the subject manner. It’s part serious western and part satire of the genre. The opening is a poke at Leone’s “Man With No Name” Trilogy and there are even bizarre comedy sequences which include dopy music. Hell there is even some inanely out-of-pace trampoline jumps of people doing head over feet stunts off of roof tops. That shit is more in place in a "Sabata" film and seems out-of line here.

Even with it’s awkward comical moments, “Any Gun Can Play” still ends up being a very entertaining entry into the spaghetti western genre and a solid first outing for Enzo G. Castellari. As good as Leone? Not by a long shot but fans of the genre will get plenty of kicks out of this action packed entry. Released by VCI on DVD in a double feature with “A Bullet for Sandoval”.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Live Free Or Die Hard [Die Hard 4.0] - 3/5

"You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can't remember your last name. Your kids don't want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy." -John McClane

Ludicrous? What do you mean reviving an action franchise after 12 years is ludicrous? Is the plot for "Live Free Or Die Hard" ludicrous? Is having a quickly aging Bruce Willis return ludicrous? Is casting Justin Long as his new 'buddy' character ludicrous? How about holding the entire COUNTRY hostage now! Is that ludicrous? Abso-fucking-lutely. It also makes it a rather enjoyable action film, that's what.

John McClane (Willis) still is trying to put his life together. It's a rather shitty life now and his own daughter (Winstead) won't even talk to him. When a half crazed and well connected hacker (Olyphant) decides to kick into gear a fire sale (which engulfs the entire country into chaos) McClane happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time bringing in a young man Matt (Long) who just might be the key to stopping it. With McClane's penchant for being a smart ass skull cracking get it done at all costs attitude bad guy demolition machine and Matt's technological prowess, together they just might be able to stop anarchy in the USA.

"Die Hard With A Vengeance" might have been the return to form that we desperately needed after the rather lack luster carbon copy of "Die Hard 2", but "Live Free Or Die Hard" truly tries to modernize the franchise to keep it relevant. It succeeds on some levels, but ultimately falls into the pit hole of trying to be too big for its own britches. It's a fun ride with some great moments, but it comes off more like a desperate attempt to rehash some of the elements of the previous entries without adding enough new twists.

Don't get me wrong, I actually really enjoy this film. The action is hilariously over the top (McClane in a semi vs. a fucking jet? I'll go with that) exciting and Willis is still surprisingly charming despite having to go 12 years without this character. McClane's bullshitting rants and take no prisoners attitude just might make any film work on some level and hearing him mouth off and blow things up is simply endearing and heartwarming for action fans. These two elements single handedly give this film its 3 stars.

On the other hand, this film does fail in way too many areas. The plot is so out there and over the top that there was no way that the film could even try to make it seem plausible (really? a fire sale and villains with this many connections?) and some of the cast was just simply misused. Olyphant, a new favorite genre actor of mine, is a horribly written villain and over acted. Even our new young buddy character, in a desperate attempt to reach the new generation of movie-goers, is awkwardly placed with Willis. It leads to a few good laughs but many of the scenes seemed forced with the two. Even the supporting cast (which includes awesome kung fu star Maggie Q and "District 13: Ultimatum" star Cyril Raffaelli) are horribly under used sans a few good action scenes.

Like with "Die Hard 2", this fourth film in the franchise is a fun action flick with great over the top and out there sequences, but it lacks the grounded humanity of the other films. It's fun and its great to see McClane back in action and spurting out hilarious dialogue, but this one could have been more inspired.

BONUS RANT: Do NOT see the rated version of this film. Part of its charm is having Willis drop F-Bombs and ridiculous slurs as he miraculously pulls off outrageous action pieces. Not to mention the rated one also cuts out the last word in McClane's now classic catch phrase. We just can't have that. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Fright Night (1985) - 4/5

By the time the 80s rolled around the "vampire film" was an old fashioned, dried up dessicated husk. It had been done too DEATH. Though I love Hammer films, their overlong Dracula series became a joke near the end and thanks to multiple other Dracula films throughout the decades the period piece approach to the subject matter had just grown stale. In order to bring the subgenre back to life in the 80s it needed to be re-invented and Tom Holland new exactly how to do it with his wonderfully entertaining 1985 vampire opus "Fright Night".

The plot has an Alfred Hitchcock "Rear Window" approach as horror movie buff Charley Brewster, during one of his many voyeur spying incidents, witnesses his neighbor bite the neck of a prostitute. Convinced his neighbor is a vampire, his best friend and girlfriend grow worried of his growing obsession and seek help from Brewster's hero and role model horror film actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) turned late night horror film host. Is Brewster cookoo for vampires or is this a truely deadly problem?

What's so wonderful to Tom Holland's approach to the film is that it adds a fun 80's pop culture vibe to the vampire subgenre while at the same time tipping it's hat and honoring all the vampire films to come before. The character Peter Vincent is a wonderful reference to the horror actors of old (the name is the combination of both Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) and is perfectly played by ever likable Roddy McDowell. Another actor that steals the show is Chris Sarandon as the possible vampire neighbor, who is deliciously evil and charming at the same time.

Along with some truly scary sequences the film also contains plenty of humor, well balanced thanks to director Tom Holland who handles the material perfectly so it doesn't fall into camp territory. The amazing special effects are just the icing on the cake to make this a truly entertaining horror picture.

"Fright Night" succeeds at re-inventing the vampire film for the young 80s audience while at the same time staying true and honoring all the classics of the genre that came before. I find it to please audiences from all the generations with wonderful actors, visual flair, well balanced scares with humor and jaw dropping pre-CGI special effects. "Fright Night" will make sure your night is an entertaining one. A sequel would follow three years later.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hills Have Eyes, The (2006) - 4.5/5

Alexandre Aja may have made a Horror splash of pure success with his mental mind fuck "High Tension", but his American debut shows just what he's made of...pure intensity. Although remaking the Wes Craven classic might have seemed like a poor choice initially, Aja shows that not only could it be done. But it could be done BETTER.

The Carter family is doing the classic American family road trip. Getting lost in the middle of a desert when a short cut to California seems to be a long cut. To make matters worse, they wreck their car on some questionable directions from a shady gas station attendant. To make matters even worser (I know its not a REAL word), they are on the edge of old nuclear test site. A nuclear test site that may have bred a new breed of terror. A breed hungry for human flesh.

Remakes are notoriously (and quickly) degrading the Horror genre into a even more repetitive pile of drivel. Occasionally though there is one that truly does improve on the original. "The Hills Have Eyes" is one of these remakes. Although the original is a classic to most, Aja's super brutal and disturbing grasp on updating the satirical Horror flick improves on it in almost every aspect giving the world a truly horrifying film.

Even with its relatively silly concept (nuclear mutated cannibalistic people that terrorize a family in the desert? WHAT?!), "The Hills Have Eyes" plays on the viewers fears with relative ease. It has great character builds for each of the family members that make them believable and empathetic and with that initial foundation, the film is able to truly disturb you. The pacing is superbly set to create such a thick and palpable tension that even the intense violence isn't a relief towards the end and only makes it more urgent for these characters in their situation. This play on all of these disturbing situations (being isolated, terrorized, the need to protect children, the desert setting, lack of knowledge) creates a horrifying watch. It makes us truly think, 'what if that were us?' and that's what makes this such a great Horror film.

It also helps that "The Hills Have Eyes" is so expertly executed. Aja's visual style perfectly stylizes the violence and tension. The cast is stellar. The score is damn intense (the initial attack on the trailer has this rhythmatic deep siren that shakes the soul) and the script is top notch. From the first seconds of the family's interaction to the final relief of the falling action, "The Hills Have Eyes" is amazingly well put together.

There are few films out that that strike a note so well to disturb me, but "The Hills Have Eyes" remake is one of them. It nails its aspects almost to perfection with all of its levels and it makes it one of the most mentally trying films out there. Aja's debut in America is a whopper. Pure intensity and the last half of the film never lets up. An instant classic. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Demon of Paradise - 1/5

Filipino director Cirio H. Sangiago only directed two horror films in his entire, long winded career.... both awful. Sure his action films, ranging from D grade Vietnam war flicks to post apocalyptic stinkers, were hardly good but at least had some entertainment "quality" to them, however trashy the entertainment value may be.
Not his horror outings my friends as these can be a chore to sit through.

"Demon of Paradise" is late 80's "Creature From the Black Lagoon" rip-off which is a loose remake of previous Roger Corman productions "Up From the Depths" and "Creature from the Haunted Sea." It seems dynamite fishing in Hawaii awakens an ancient reptilian creature who decides to make mince meat out of local tourists at a vacation resort. Now it's up to a local sheriff and scientists to kill the creature.

The story is tired and weak being done thousands of times before and Cirio knows it as he seems tired and sluggish himself behind the camera as he attempts to direct our lifeless actors. He gets so bored with the subject matter that he even gets use of the Vietnam soldier uniforms he utilized in his umpteen Vietnam War epics to spice the film up by having the "National Guard" come in and attempt to blow this monster to kingdom come.

The monster suit is pathetic to say the least. Hard to believe that suits from horror films made thirty years before have FAR better and actually realistic looking suits. Despite the monsters hilarious image it still manages to be seemingly indestructible taking infinite bullet shots and even pulls a "Jaws 2" and takes a helicopter down into the water. I will admit the helicopter scene did get me to crack a smile.

Perhaps even worse looking than the monster suit is how the filmmakers try to pull off the Philippines setting as Hawaii. They pulled it off in "Up From the Depths" as they actually filmed that film on ocean shore beaches. Not here.... it's on the muddy rivers of the jungles. Hell I expected Martin Sheen to tug by on his military boat. Hawaii.... hardly.

Obscure monster film and obscure for a reason. "Up From the Depths" had some B-movie charm about it but "Demon of Paradise" just seems like a waste of time. Thankfully it was released on DVD in a double feature with the afore mentioned film so the purchase wasn't a total wash.

Written By Eric Reifschneider