Sunday, August 28, 2011

Conan The Barbarian (2011) - 4/5

Honestly, I've never been the sword and sorcery type of film watcher. Particularly as of late with crap films like "Season Of The Witch", but growing up with the likes of Arnie and his wicked big blade in the first two "Conan" films made this latest tale of the Cimmerian and his blood-lust somewhat of a must see for me. That's how I ended up in the theaters today with my iced tea prepping myself for the onslaught of swords, necromancy, and tough guys in fur. This 2011 vision of the long time cult hero can be summed up by one line uttered by Conan in the film that is paraphrased with: I live, I love, I slay, and I am content. That shit is dead on for what this film is. Over an hour and a half of pure violence, sex, more violence, and a sense that this is what it should be. This focus on making a big budget B movie certainly sells the film, even if it isn't great by any means.

Conan (Momoa) watched his father (Perlman) perish at the hands of a wicked warrior king Zhym (Lang) as a child. Now 20 years down the road, with 200 more pounds of muscle and an attitude to match, Conan is seeking his vengeance on this evil warlord who happens to be hell bent on becoming a god with a special bone crown the blood of a pure blood woman (Nichols). Conan finds himself on a quest not only to garner his vengeance, but to save the entire world from darkness and necromancy.

What can I say, but I'm a sucker for those cheesy over the top cult films being released nowadays. "Conan" struck a chord with me. I must also say I was stoked to see Marcus Nispel's name attached to the film. The guy does cult remakes well ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday The 13th" for starters) and his focus for this film was dead on. We're not talking character study with atmosphere and dialogue driven plot...we have fucking swords! And blood! And heads flying! And sand monsters! And tentacles! And awesome scenery! With bones! And a cave that looks like a screaming skull! For all intensive purposes I believe that this film was only 10% dialogue, characters, and plot. 90% of the film was violence in all of its barbaric glory. Good ratio for a "Conan" film if you ask me. We get all kinds of awesome action including but not limited to: a carriage chase complete with exploding wooden carriage, oil fires, exploding sand people fights on ruins, pirate ship fights, sieges on towns, sword fights (a plenty), fist fights, and to top it off - hurling a man to death on a catapult. I'll say Nispel did well with is focuses.

With all those exclamation marks aside, "Conan" isn't a great film. Momoa isn't a great actor by any means and lacks some of the smarm and intensity that Arnie brought to the role and the characters and plot have so many holes in them that Michael Bay would be proud. Why does the leading lady Tamara like Conan? He's an ass and has little for redeeming qualities. Yet she does and gives us quite the thin romantic sub plot used as "character development" for the film.. Really though, I wasn't expecting an epic film mounted on symbolism and parallel thinking. Quite frankly, the action, blood, muscles, and nudity cover up the plot holes quite nicely with thrills and badassery.

If you are looking for a great film with thought provoking tales of woe and imagination, "Conan" ain't it. It has some surprisingly solid moments (the acting for the villains is splendid, particularly towards creepy witch daughter lady and the father/son relationship is built nicely in the beginning), but the film is there to entertain with all of its vigor. Which it does like the efficient slice of Conan's big ass blade. Take it for what it is as a big budget B movie and enjoy it for its gratuity in excess.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Scorpion with Two Tails, The [Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery] (1982) - 2/5

Sergio Martino is hands down one of the best directors in the Giallo genre. Look at this guys credentials: "The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh", "The Case of the Scorpion's Tail", "All the Colors of the Dark", " Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key", and "Torso". These are all fantastic Gialli and makes Martino a contender with Argento and Bava for master of the genre. A Giallo he directed that never makes the list is "Scorpion with Two Tails".... and for good fucking reason.

A young women starts having visions of her archeologist husband being killed and soon it happens for real, just like in her dream. She travels to Europe to find clues and discovers a connection between the newly excavated Etruscan tomb and the head twisting murders occurring all around her.

The plot would have been an interesting mix of Giallo and supernatural horror if it weren't for the poor execution. "Scorpion with Two Tails" (also released as " Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery") was originally intended as a two part television made movie before producers at the last minute decided to make it theatrical feature. The film suffers from this decision as the plot is haphazardly cut up in order to fit a 90 minute running time as opposed to 200. Even once Giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi can't get this plot to be anything remotely interesting, no matter how many scenes of maggots or head turnings they write in.

Sergio Martino's direction also has a terrible, made-for-TV look about it. His direction is subdued, almost non-existent. By this time Martino stopped using the 2.35:1 widescreen ratio to shoot his films in and thus out the window went his unique camera angles and fast editing. Due to this the film looks sloppy, cheap and rushed. Hell even the score by Fabio Frizzi is recycled from previous films he has worked on, most notably "City of the Living Dead".

The cast is full of recognizable multi-national Euro cult faces, including John Saxon ("A Nightmare on Elm Street", "Cannibal Apocalypse"), Paolo Malco ("House by the Cemetery", "New York Ripper"), Claudio Cassinelli ("Mountain of the Cannibal God", "Island of the Fishmen") and even Franco Garofalo ("Hell of the Living Dead", "The Other Hell") just to name a few. Even with all these notable actors it doesn't make this forgettable Giallo worthwhile.

Martino will always be a master of the Giallo genre but "Scorpion with Two Tails" was made at a time when his career was starting to wallow. Hell he even decided to use the pseudonym Christian Plummer to hide him from this boring disappointment. This just lacks the wonderful stylistic edge he had earlier in his career and it lacks the trashy entertainment value of his films to come ("2019: After the Fall of New York", "Hands of Steel"). Due to similar titles people often confuse "Scorpion with Two Tails" with Martino's masterful 1972 Giallo "The Case of the Scorpion's Tail". Do not, I repeat, DO NOT confuse "Case of the Scorpion's Tail" with this tedious and weary example of the genre.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Director: Len Wiseman
Notable Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Steven Mackintosh, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Zita Gorog, Brian Steele

In all honesty, my expectations were quite low for Underworld: Evolution. The first film wasn't great, but was carried over by its charm and style. Could it really work twice? Turns out Len Wiseman made it work twice. Evolution may not be quite as solidified as the original one, but it still sparks a whollup of entertainment and gothic fun with its increasingly violent and epic plot. Hey, I'm always down for a good match between vampires and werewolves no matter how outrageous it's becoming.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Primal Rage (1988) - 2/5

Despite the amazing poster artwork, I went into "Primal Rage" expecting a complete dog turd. Why is that? Well it's due to the fact that it's a late 80s Italian horror film and that era of Italian Horror is generally not well regarded and for good reason. Second it's a late 80's Italian horror film filmed in America with actual live sound (no dubbing) so right away I had horror flashbacks to "Killing Birds" and "Troll 2", crummy American shot Italian horror films made the same way. To be honest, "Primal Rage" actually surprised me by not being a terrible late 80s Italian Horror film, but keep in mind it is still from the end of the decade so it's still not going to be good.

After a crummy title sequence (with the title "Primal Rage" appearing on the back of two female butts marching to the beat of an awful 80s pop song) the audience is told it takes place on an unnamed college campus. Here some overzealous student reporters break into a scientific lab where one of the culprits gets bit by an experimental monkey. He of course develops some kind of "rabies" like disease that brings out the 'primal rage' in his soul and he starts brutally murdering and biting students, spreading the contagion. Can his best friend stop him before it spreads? Trust me, "28 Days Later" this ain't.

As you can tell the plot is nothing we horror fans haven't seen before but that should be expected since screenwriter Umberto Lenzi (under the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick) was in a deep valley this stage of his career. Still, even with such a derivative plot, "Primal Rage" comes out far better than anything Lenzi directed himself at this time.

Lenzi also injects a few instances into his script that drive me complete bonkers. First of all why is it when anyone comes down with this disease they refuse to see a doctor or get medical help? Hell I know doctor visits are expensive as hell but when you have blood blisters exploding from your face and blood spewing from your finger nails I think money wouldn't be a matter! Also one of our characters kills an infected person and then burns down his house and the police buy it as an accident. I guess C.S.I wasn't near as accurate back in those days (hmmm... what's this bullet doing lodged in the wall... ah it's nothing. Death caused by smoking bed).

The acting is surprisingly decent for low budget Italian affair, especially since most of the actors are rather green. The only veteran in the cast is B-movie veteran Bo Svenson as our scientist, sporting an awful rat-tail that made me want to yank off violently. The real attraction for this rather obscure film is the good special effects as there is plenty of blood spewing good moments for gore hounds.

"Primal Rage" may have a derivative plot, insane plot devices and plenty of puke inducing 80s pop songs on the soundtrack but the nifty special effects and decent acting kept me interested throughout the running time. That in itself is a feat considering this is a late 80's Italian horror film. Perhaps if the film lived up more to its title it would have become more of a cult classic rather than disappearing into obscurity. The DVD release of "Primal Rage" from Code Red went quickly out-of-print, no doubt because it was a poor seller on DVD. I was lucky enough to snatch one up before it did. For people curious the DVD is wonderful if you can find it for a good price.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, August 26, 2011

Antichrist (2009) - 4/5

Far be it for me to run away from a controversial film, even if it induces the extreme reactions that "Antichrist" has. Perhaps I should have, now that I think back about my time with this arthouse/exploitation film. Wowza. What a ride. From its black and white slow motion prologue and very explicit sex scene to its final symbolic moments, "Antichrist" is a film of unbelievably brilliant execution but one that pushes its artfulness to such a nonsensical brink that the true emotional trip is lost in its extremity. Not to mention a film that has shown me a lot of images I have never wanted to see, nor see again.

When a couple, known as He (Dafoe) and She (Gainsbourg), lose their child in a tragic incident, they decide to go out to a cabin in the woods known as Eden to work through their grief. Once there, He begins to have odd visions and She becomes violently sexual towards him and things begin to unwind in ways of unexpected nature as the two spiral into a nightmare of their own making.

It truly is hard to place into words many of the feelings I have about "Antichrist". Is it a symbolic arthouse film exploring the dark side of human nature? Absolutely. Is is an exploitation film? Also yes. It's a very unique blend of a standard psychological horror film and artistic film that builds itself on a simple premise with loads of atmosphere and fucked up visuals. The execution on screen of this film is infallible. Lars Von Trier builds the film with plenty of artistic choices, with long moments of silence, color schemes, pacing, and setting choices. The fog in the forest is creepy as hell and his odd build of the characters and their relationship is intense. Along with absolutely stunning acting from both our leads, this film rocks the character study mood it has and blends it with its creepy, dark atmosphere perfectly.

One of the biggest issues that "Antichrist" battles with, particularly with the latter half, is that the symbolism can be a bit much. There is nothing wrong with the symbolism in the film and when it works, the revelation of the Three Beggars for example, its spot on. Adding a flair to the film that drives home those artistic moments. Not all of the symbolism works. The key about symbolism is that if no one gets it, then its pointless. Many moments in "Antichrist" are obviously symbolic of something, but its meaning is lost in some of its more extreme moments (and there are VERY extreme moments that I for one would never like to see again). When the fox looks at He after eating itself and says "Chao Reigns" was lost on me. Couldn't get over the visual to see what was underneath.

"Antichrist" is a film that should be seen by anyone claiming to be a cult film fanatic. Expect extremes with it, both in silence and atmosphere and physical violence, but experience the film for what it is and let it sit with you rather than thinking too much about it as it plays out. Think about it later, after the visual feast has ended and the shock of some of its final sequences fades. That's when the film is best.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Underworld (2003)

Director: Len Wiseman
Notable Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee

Despite all of this Twilight hoopla that has made vampires the next big thing in the last few years and the subject matter of inter-monster relationships that has spread way too far into the melodrama category, Underworld was one of the first films (along with Blade a few years earlier) to capitalize on making vampires these super cool anti-heroes in this modern cinematic age for young film fans. Although the film is basically a rip off of The Matrix in so many ways, it does contain an extensive amount of charm to its simplified epic tale and its executions. This leaves a film that may not change your outlook on the mythos of any of the creatures involved, but entertains with enough finesse to kick start a franchise that's worth the time.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday - .5/5

My brother said it best when he said that there are bad sequels and then there are bad sequels that piss you off. "Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday" handedly falls into the latter category. This first sequel (and supposedly last one of the franchise...again) for New Line Cinema seemingly homages the previous entries, but deviates from the formula and style so much that its hard not to let the ensuing stupidity of the film bog you down to the point of rage. Yeah, you thought "Jason Takes Manhattan" was bad? You haven't seen anything yet.

After a police trap kills Jason...err...excuse me, BLOWS UP Jason's body, it would seem the world could rest peacefully with the planet's most notorious supernatural serial killer now six feet deep. Not so, my friends. Turns out Jason's supernatural abilities allow him to leap from body to body through regurgitating his heart/monstrous parasite into other people's mouths and now he wants to be reborn. He needs a blood line of the Voorhees to do so though, so he's back to Crystal Lake to find his sister and niece so that he can be reborn.

With an astounding 'what the fuck', "Jason Goes To Hell" certainly takes the old Jason train and derails the entire thing. The plot is absolutely senseless. We're accustomed to random things in this franchise and continuity errors...but seriously? Even New Line can't expect me (or you) to buy into this bull shit. A body hopping parasite/heart that possesses a person as they decay? A bloodline of Voorhees that never existed in Crystal Lake? Hell, Jason (as played by Kane Hodder) is only in the film for the initial destruction and final anticlimactic throw down. It's a whole different movie that happens to use a few details about the "Friday The 13th" franchise!

To top off this crap cake of a plot, the film is horridly executed. The acting is atrocious, particularly from our want to be hero and the horridly used supporting cast, and the directing is as senseless as the plot. Utilizing one of the worst scores known to man to build an atmosphere, this film series collapses under the weight of stupidity. Random slow motion for poorly constructed death sequences, poor modern editing, and laughable special effects just further the down grade of the series into sheer madness. Hey, it does have a cowboy hat wearing bounty hunter named Duke who seemingly knows everything supernatural about Jason even though it never explains how (there's history there...but they don't have the sense to even try to explain). Oh, what a great idea guys...

Simply put: "Jason Goes To Hell" is one of the worst film's I've seen - and one of the worst sequels ever made. It never makes sense. It's never executed correctly. And it sure as hell never works as a "Friday The 13th" film. Even though there have been some bad films in this franchise, none of them compare to the lack of enjoyment one gets from this entry. It's not just a bad pisses you off.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Amityville II: The Possession (1982) - 2.5/5

We all knew it was coming. There was destined to be a sequel to a film as successful as "The Amityville Horror", a supposedly true haunted house story that struck a chord with audiences. In comes Italian producer mogul Dino De Laurentiis to unleash his first of two sequels and like the first film this follow-up is based on true events but with one difference. This time it's "prequel" to the famous haunting story. Now I've mentioned numerous times in other reviews that I'm not a fan of prequels as they mostly tell a story that doesn't need to be told. Surprisingly enough though I liked this prequel BETTER than the original. Since the original was mostly a bore and lacked all the tense scares of the novel, it doesn't take much to improve upon it.

The first filmed touched on the murders that occurred in the now famous house in Amityville and here we follow the events of that tragic incident. We are introduced to a family built on shaky relationships who move into the house of their dreams. Soon spooky happenings begin to occur and, since you've seen the first film, we know the eldest son brutally murders his family. Unlike the real life murders, the film introduces a possession twist to the tale and now it's up to a priest to save the boy's life.

This sequel is held with a bitter reception among many fans of the original film as it is bleak, dreary and downright offensive in its approach. This is not the family full of hopes and dreams of the original film. This is a family full of tragedy, including spousal abuse, child abuse and even incest. These are not elements that people find entertainment worthy. Hell to top it off screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace ("Halloween", "Fright Night Part 2") includes rather brutal child killings.

At the chance of sounding demented I have to say this more gutsy, bitter, rebellious approach to the subject matter is what I respect about this sequel. What the hell was going on in Tommy Lee Wallace's life to write some of this shit? This script is as bitter at life as cocoa on the tongue and I give the filmmakers credit for trying something different and offbeat.

For an odd choice as director, Laurentiis chose seasoned Italian veteran Damiano Damiani who was mostly known for his politically charged spaghetti westerns and crime thrillers in Italy. Oddly enough he brings a ominous, bleak tone to the film allowing it... get this... to actually be scary and suspenseful in parts. Makers of the original film should take note! This sequel just has a downright creepy feel to it... like a haunted house film should have!

The problem this sequel suffers from is a shaky second half. The first half is atmospheric and suspenseful as our family is torn apart from the demonic happenings. After our young man blows his family away the film just falls apart and becomes a shoddy "Exorcist" rip-off with a Priest breaking the guy out of jail in order exorcise the demon that has taken possession. It's just becomes a special effects laden mess and sputters to a quiet death.

Even though the film languishes in its second half, the overall final product is a much more creepy and scary film than the hit processor thanks to atmospheric directing and good acting (Burt Young always plays a great abusive drunk). Most people will disagree as they will find the dreary, downbeat tone of the film despicable but for me it made for a much stronger picture. Yes, I liked a sequel, not to mention a PREQUEL, better than the original film. So sue me!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Priest (2011) - 2.5/5

Hot damn, can I pick them lately. All style and no substance. Fluffy visuals and faulty scripts. Guess I should have known that a film from Scott Stewart (director of "Legion") would not be the leap up to the glory that his style seems to indicate. Just like the above mentioned film, "Priest" succeeds on a couple levels: visuals and concept. The rest is a faulty film that seems to never get it all on the same page and sputters its way to an obvious finish that wants desperately to create a new franchise.

In an alternate future, the war between man and vampires has destroyed the Earth. A priest (Bettany), trained to kill vampires as an art before they were shoved into reservations, is called back to duty by a sheriff (Gigandet) from the wastelands to find his niece who was kidnapped by a group of rogue vampires led by a mysterious man named Black Hat (Urban). He goes against the church, who convienently don't believe the story, and heads out to the wastelands to find his family, all the while having to face vampires, other priests told to bring him back, and a new foe...who may just have connections to his past.

What makes "Priest" such a disappointment is that the concept is soooooo fucking cool. It's got this great science fiction and western vibe that brings out this anti-hero like protagonist (who only kills vamps with blades...even cooler) who rides along on his motorcycle through the desert to outposts and reservations hunting for his kin. It's like "The Searchers" meets "Blade" is a weird conceptional way. It's awesome. Partner this with a more than stellar cast of Bettany as our lead, Maggie Q as a priestess out to help, and Karl Urban as the villain and this movie should have blown my socks off.

It doesn't. That's what is so frustrating. It's like the script intentionally half asses everything to ruin this movie. Our hero is annoyingly distant and cold. Urban is horrifyingly underused as our villain (although his maestro of destruction scene is wicked cool looking) and the plot never goes the distance to push its religious overtones and western motifs. How can one screw up a concept as cool as hijacking a train full of vampires monsters from a villain as ideologically cool as Black Hat? They sure as hell do it with its poorly developed characters, half assed dialogue, and irritatingly lack luster pacing.

Stewart does his damnedest though to give it flair. It's visual arresting as a movie with plenty of cool shots, art direction, and special effects. Plenty of slow motion gives a modern edge the the action sequences (the highlight of which being Maggie Q vs the "Road Warrior" inspired motorcycle gang) and the final train heist is fun and energetic. Although the final fight between the priest and Black Hat is a bit anticlimactic, the rest of the film certainly piles on the visual style.

Honestly, the film isn't a horrid watch, but comparing it to the massive potential it had as a concept makes it seem like a complete wreck of a film. It has its style and visual coolness, but its plot hole ridden script and poor character work bury the film's better qualities. Let's hope, if they do a sequel, that it improves its storytelling aspects. Otherwise its just more style before substance.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Amityville Horror, The (1979) - 2/5

When it comes to haunted houses none is more burned into the annals of history than the Amityville House, better known by the public by the moniker "The Amityville Horror." Supposedly based on a true story, the "The Amityville Horror" often gets blasted due to it being based on fact. Now whether you believe the story really happened or not is irrelevant because true horror fans can't deny that this is a fucking great horror story, true or not. Don't believe me? Then read the book as it is one of the most tense and scary stories I have ever read. It's perfect fodder for a hit movie with all the spooky shenanigans and a creepy house with its eye windows peeking out from behind the chimney. Even with a story as scary and tense as "The Amityville Horror" filmmakers were able to deliver a hit film but sadly were far from being able to craft a great, scary movie.

Well we open with a psychotic killer brutally murdering his two parents and siblings. Jump to a few years later and we are introduced to a newlywed, mixed family making a new beginning by buying a beautiful house at a steal of a price. Looking past the murders that occurred there, they soon find that their in the midst of a supernatural frenzy that starts to drive the father stark raving made. Will the family be able to move out before the ghosts or an ax wielding husband make the house their tomb?

"The Amityville Horror" on the surface has all the ingredients for a great film. First we have a strong cast lead by James Brolin and Margot Kidder as our couple and even Rod Steiger overacting as a priest. Second is the score by Lalo Schifrin is absolutely haunting, adding an ominous atmosphere early on in the picture. Third is the production values are good, showing the film had a budget to work with. So what the hell went so wrong? Let's just stay the house is built on weak foundations...

The main problem is the script by Sandor Stern which comes nowhere close to capturing the sheer terror of the novel. Nothing really scary happens making the film really bog down. I'm sorry but black goo coming down the walls and flies covering the windows isn't scary. Those elements provide good build up to scares but they all lead up to no pay off. The one chilling moment is when a demonic voice threatens a priest who attempts to bless the house... that's it! Stern's script also deviates far too often from the novel, adding in ridiculous aspects (like a Priest going blind and a doorway to hell in the basement) while at the same time cutting out scenes that would have terrified (why the hell wasn't the pig demon focused more on?).

With a lame script director Stuart Rosenberg is like a helpless contractor, building a house without a set of blue-prints and only a few scribbles on a piece of paper. The result is the film slowing building up to an extremely disappointing climax. Rosenberg also doesn't go out of his way to make it a visual feast for the eyes as the film has a rather dull, lifeless look about it that could even constitute a made-for-TV production.

"The Amityville Horror", instead of being a harrowing, scary experience just ends up being a bore. With a story this scary and enthralling this film version should have been legendary and if it weren't for it's reputation of being "based on a true story" it would have just faded into obscurity. I'm sorry but there are FAR better, scary and atmospheric haunted house films from the 70s including but not limited to "The Legend of Hell House", "Burnt Offerings" and "The Evil" which sadly get glazed over by people thanks to this films "true" reputation. Needless to say "The Amityville Horror" was a huge box office success which lead to, get this, seven sequels ("Amityville II: The Possession", "Amityville 3-D", "Amityville: The Evil Escapes", "The Amityville Curse", "Amityville 1992: It's About Time", "Amityville: A New Generation" and "Amityville: Dollhouse") as well as a remake 2005 which surprisingly slightly improved the results.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dinner with a Vampire (1986) - 2.5/5

What we have here is the fourth and final full length TV made film by Lamberto Bava for his cable show "Brivido Giallo" (preceded by "Graveyard Disturbance", "Until Death" and "The Ogre"). Bava goes for a more comical approach to the horror, much like his first film in the series "Graveyard Disturbance." I am proud to exclaim that this time around the result is better, if not still seriously flawed by its botched comical approach.

Well we have four wanna-be actors audition for roles in a new horror film by a renowned and reclusive director. They are invited to his castle for a rehearsal and dinner and thanks to the title we know he is a vampire, a vampire sick of living. You see his human side is bored with life and wants to die but his vampire half won't allow suicide as an option so our four hand-picked numbskulls have the night to figure out how to kill the bastard before coming a midnight snack.

Like "Graveyard Disturbance" Bava attempts to mix Italian horror with a teen comedy and the result is a little shaky, but overall a better film product than his previous outing. Much like "Graveyard Disturbance" most of the humor falls flat, and makes one groan more in agony instead of laughing. These four numskulls that our vampire "carefully selected" are absolute dip-shits. I mean if he truly wanted to die then wouldn't he have picked some intelligent horror fanatics with knowledge about vampirism and not airheaded dancers and singers?

Lamberto Bava's wonderful style still shows through its TV production limitations as the film is gorgeous to look at. Bava, like his father Mario and teacher Dario Argento, had a knack for style. The castle location the film was shot at is also beautiful and bizarre, definitely not the typical castle interior with its complex tile designs. Not your typical gothic castle which is a breath of fresh air.

The cast is mostly made up of no-bodies but two really shine. The first is Patrizia Pellegrino, and absolute gorgeous blond Italian pop singer doing this acting gig on the side. She plays, what else, but a singer. Though acting is not her strong point, at least she was great eye candy. The actor that really steals the show is George Hilton, a famous Italian actor mostly known for his Spaghetti Westerns and Gialli throughout the 60s and 70s. He had all but disappeared from the Italian film market by 1986 so it's great to see him back in action, and having a ball doing it.

Though seriously flawed by its failed teen comedy and horror mixture, "Dinner with a Vampire" was still a lot of fun. Bava's wonderful style, despite TV movie limitations, really shines and George Hilton seems to be having a wonderful time hamming it up as a vampire that wants to die. Mix that with another catchy score by Simon Boswell (even re-using a song from "Graveyard Disturbance") and some nifty special effects and you have a really obscure Italian horror feature that should appease fans of Euro cult films.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dragon Heat [Dragon Squad] - 2/5

Let me tell you a joke. What do you get when you combine Sammo Hung, Maggie Q, Michael Biehn, Simon Yam, co produced by Steven Seagal, and director Daniel Lee (the director of "Three Kingdoms") together? It's called "Dragon Heat". Still waiting for the joke? This film is the joke. Mashed together like a rehashed crime drama about gangs, cops, and rogue militants all done with enough crappy modern style to make a sensible person's head explode, "Dragon Heat" is like watching a bad joke unfold in front of your eyes. It has its moments, but they are rare and very far between.

A group of international cops are brought into China to prosecute one of the heads of a large gang of gun and drug runners when a rogue militant group (lead by badass Biehn) busts out the leader and holds him for their own gain against the gang. The international group of cops, a rag tag group of undercover agents, snipers, special forces, etc., may have to rely on a leadership of a seasoned cop (Hung) and break a few laws to get to the bottom of these war games.

The film definitely seems promising. A more than solid cast and a concept that sounds like a bullet ballet of the highest standards led me to believe that this film would kick a whole lot of ass. Turns out it does kick ass in many regards, but you better leave the brain at the door and check your logic with the coats as "Dragon Heat" plays it all in style but none of it with sense.

There are a couple of killer action set pieces in the film that highlight it. Sammo Hung's machete fight with his arch nemesis is a wicked cool scene and the ally fire fight certainly gets the adrenaline pumping with lots of shit flying in the air with the bullets. Even the concept of these two sides who must face one another  is brimming with some charm and loaded with interesting characters. The movie just doesn't focus on any of it correctly. Characters are brushed over with quick strokes that turn these interesting people into caricatures and the plot is bounded through at such a lightning pace that it leaves a hundred plot holes and loose ends that the viewer eventually ceases to care about any of it. With much of its poor dialogue just drowning the ill fated characters, the plot has nothing to work with other than attempted memorable quotes and roughly pieced together logic. It's sad really.

It's obvious that director Daniel Lee realized how weak the script was and pushed to make the film memorable by piling on the style and visual flair. I mean piling it on like burying it six feet deep in needless style. Edits are fast enough to give motion sickness, quick zooms in and out blast the screen non-stop, slow motion sequences are thrown in by the dozens, and there is enough pointless flashbacks that even Wes Craven's dog flashback in "The Hills Have Eyes 2" seems legit in comparison. It's a flurry of pointless style that really adds nothing to the story except eye candy to keep on from falling in any of the plot holes.

If you couldn't tell by now, "Dragon Heat" was a pretty massive disappointment. It's weak in the foundations, it's weak in the details, and it's weak in focuses. It desperately tries to grasp onto anything to make itself memorable and modern and only succeeds in being remembered as a failed attempt at a great idea.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Cut-Throats Nine (1972) - 3.5/5

I became aware of "Cut-Throats Nine" when some friends pointed out that it was the most violent, gory 'Spaghetti Western' ever made. Being a huge Spaghetti Western nut I had to hunt a film with such a reputation down so I purchased a bootleg a number of years back but was disappointed in one little detail: this is NOT a Spaghetti Western. Bleak, gory and violent? YES. Spaghetti Western? NO. It's a completely Spanish made production with a Spanish cast and crew. Hell it's not even a western in the traditional sense of the word as even though it takes place in a western time frame, it's actually more of a mountain survival film. Just because I was under the false pretense that this was a Spaghetti Western didn't detour my enjoyment for this nasty little exploitation effort. To be honest I LOVED IT!

From the beginning frame and score one knows this is going to be one of the bleakest, downbeat movies ever made as we get introduced to a chain gang getting transported from a gold mine deep in the middle of the Rocky Mountains with the onset of winter on the horizon. In mid transport their stagecoach gets held up by some bandits, who in turn kill most of the guards. With the stage wrecked a lone soldier with his young daughter (oh this isn't going to boad well) need to lead the chain gang of cut-throat killers to a military camp... but with only 6 bullets and winter right around the corner it's not going to be easy.

"Cut-Throats Nine" lived up to it's reputation of being violent and gory as boy is this film brutal! Director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent spares no expense to show audiences close-ups of crushed skulls and charred burnt corpses. Lucio Fulci would be so damn proud! What makes the gore and violence so much more disturbing is the serious, bleak tone Marchent gives the picture. He even goes as far as to not allow any bright, cheerful colors to appear in the scheme of the film. Let's just say it's like the tone of "The Great Silence" with Fulci directing and you get the picture.

If I had to complain about one aspect it would be that the film loses some steam towards the end as the film builds and builds with real no payoff and really just wallows to a depressive, yet very appropriate ending.

If you like your films dark, bleak and depressing then "Cut-Throats Nine" is for you. Though full of exploitative gore, it also has some powerful performances and solid directing. It's definitely a film experience you won't soon forget. Not surprisingly "Cut-Throats Nine" bombed at the box office (most people are pussies and prefer 'upbeat' films) but the film as grown a loyal fanbase over the years. Finally, after fans putting up with murky bootlegs, cult DVD company Code Red put out a great release in a double feature with the Fred Williamson western "Joshua." The Code Red DVD is by far the best way to go for fans.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Beast Within, The (1982) - 2.5/5

With such awful film credits as "Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf" and "Howling III: The Marsupials" to his name, I sure went into Philippe Mora's "The Beast Within" with a well deserving questionable gaze as this guy has some true turds on his resume. However the name Tom Holland (director of "Fight Night" and "Child's Play) credited as screen writer reassured my optimism, as Holland is a tremendously underrated screenwriter and director. Well, I am glad to say "The Beast Within" was far better than I imagined it was going to be but not without a LOT of flaws to help bring its star rating down.

The film opens with an uncomfortable rape scene where a woman is assaulted by a swamp beast. Jump to 17 years later we learn the assault resulted in a child... and he is going through some ghastly changes. It seems his real fathers genetics are awakening and now our young lad with a bad temper and dermatology problem sets out for bloody vengeance against the family that killed his pa.

Though on a basic level it's a simple monster on the loose film, the film still suffers from some major plot issues as many aspects are NEVER explained. First of all why did our youth's mutant pa become a mutant? How does our young fella know the family that killed his pa and all the members? I can't blame Tom Holland's script as the film seems to have had been tinkered with and in the process a lot of the explanations were left on the editing room floor. Apparently, after doing a little research, the beastly transformations have to do with some Native American legend but thanks to the film we, the audience, NEVER know that.

The film is notorious in the horror community, along with "The Howling", for pioneering the use of bladder special effects in transformation scenes... and believe me fans of practicable special effects will get an eye full as our youngster goes through a tremendous transformation into a beast while at a hospital. Fans of gore will also get plenty to sink their teeth into as our beast brutally kills anyone connected with his pa's murder.

Philippe Mora's direction is surprisingly atmospheric and he takes the subject matter far more seriously than one would expect. The moody lighting and the sometimes overbearing score also heighten some of the scares. Still there are a few unintentional laughs to be had, especially during our youths transformation scene when everyone stares in horror, without out shooting or running. Come on guys, get the fuck out of there! This scene would be wonderfully spoofed by Mora in his film "Howling III."

The cast is top for such a graphic monster romp, headed by Ronny Cox as our loving father, a refreshing role before director Paul Verhoeven got a hold of him and turned him into one of the nastiest villains of all time in "RoboCop" and "Total Recall". Paul Clemens gives a virtuoso performance as the teenager before the transformation by conveying pain and confusion without the aid of makeup and special effects in the first half of the film.

As a gooey, bloody monster flick "The Beast Within" works but it's plot holes that were left on the cutting room's floor and a rushed ending makes this sadly an unsatisfactory film by the end. It's still far better than one would imagine with its surprisingly good direction by Philippe Mora and its strong cast. Definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of practical special effects.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Pistoleros [Ballad of a Gunman] (1967) - 2/5

"Pistoleros" is another standard, very typical Spaghetti Western. I guess when you've seen as many as I have (which is pushing 150) chances are you've seen most of the entries that are must sees. Is that saying "Pistoleros" (aka "Ballad of a Gunman") is a complete washout? Hell no as there is plenty of likeable Spaghetti Western ingredients to be had here, including violence, despicable antiheroes and even nastier villains.

We open with a hellacious bandit, who brutally kills riders in a stagecoach for money. Then we cut to a young bounty killer (Angelo Infanti) following an older gunman (Antony Ghidra) as they both have a beef with this goon, which of course leads up to a well staged shootout and a predicable plot twist.

The plot is VERY cliché... two bounty hunters at each others throats but must work together to beat an adversary. Girl gets kidnapped, one gets captured capture and then relies on the other to save him. If you've seen as many Spaghetti Westerns as I have (or even westerns in general) then every aspect of this plot will be extremely familiar. Hell we even have the villains pull a "James Bond" villain move by not killing these guys when they have a perfect opportunity! Sheesh!

Antony Ghidra is actually good in the rough and gritty gunman that has a personal agenda against the renown bandit and he easily steals the screen away from the cocky and arrogant young bounty killer played by Angelo Infanti. However Mario Novelli is the highlight of the movie by playing a complete evil jackass. Now only does he rape and hit women, he even shoots a defenseless dog! That my friend is a hardcore villain!

The production values are extremely low with many of the locations looking nothing more than cheap sets. Still director Alfio Caltabiano works hard to give us some interesting camera angles to spice things up. The shootout towards the end in a collapsing mine is tops however.

"Pistoleros" may be nothing new for fans of the genre but it has enough violence and anti-hero antics to keep fans interested throughout it's running time. This rather obscure Spaghetti Western was given deluxe treatment from Wild East, and of my favorite independent DVD companies.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Case 39 - 3/5

Despite the massive amount of push backs, my expectations for "Case 39" dropped extensively. Only bad movies get dumped off like that, right? Turns out mediocre ones do too. Critics may have panned this film initially, but that never stopped this reviewer before and the results of this supernatural thriller/horror are indeed mixed. Solid execution for the film simply can't raise the film above its relatively basic script and by-the-numbers plot work, leaving a film that is built well but falls under its initial premise.

Emily (Zellweger) just can't help but care for all of her cases. She puts her life and heart into being a child social worker and helping out the needy children that come across her desk. That is until her 39th case. A young girl Lilith (Ferland) seems to be in a questionable home where her parents seem intent on sending her to hell. When Emily wins it over, she even opens her home to Lilith. That is until weird things begin to happen to those around her. Perhaps the girl's parents weren't insane and were onto something...

Evil children films. Seems to be a trend recently with films like "Orphan" and "The Children", yet this one seems very content without pushing the boundaries like the mentioned films. Crossing a style of dramatic thriller that touches on some horror elements (particularly towards the end), "Case 39" has a slick look and well built on screen style. Director Alvart has a charm to his work (see his stellar "Pandorum" for further proof) and the acting from Zellweger and Ferland ably gets the nuances of the characters across for the sake of the film. Even the special effects are effective enough to get some of that tension. These are the reasons that this film scores fairly highly in my book - its effectively transferred to film well.

The major problem that hinders "Case 39" from launching up to match other films of this ilk is the fact that it's simply unoriginal. The scares are predictable (banging doors, demon voices, morph shots) and the general plot progression is easily foresighted. Even with some well shot moments and the believable performances, the film runs on such a highly treaded formula (for both thrillers and supernatural horror) that it simply fails to ignite the same fear and tension that it should have to get the atmosphere it needs.

This all leaves "Case 39" as a good, but rarely great film. A solid rental for those willing to spend a couple hours delving into a standard supernatural thriller that has some above average performances and a solid directorial style. Too bad one can see a handful of other films that take the same basic story and move it in more daring directions.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan - 2/5

Oh Jason. You and I have been a lot of places together. Most of them Camp Crystal Lake, but never a place like New York. Until this eighth entry into the "Friday The 13th" franchise, that is. My childhood memories of this film are quite ripe with laughter and positive feelings towards the film and watching it with my brother. Unfortunately, many of those memories are skewed and the actual film is nowhere near as awesome or positive (I'll give it entertaining though). Even after high points like parts 6 and 7, "Jason Takes Manhattan" is just riddled with inconsistencies and poorly executed ideas - making it unintentionally hilarious, but rarely a great slasher film even for this franchise.

A group of teens from a local high school by Camp Crystal Lake (who knows what the fuck its actually named by this point) are taking a senior trip by giant ship to New York via our beloved lake. When a giant electrical wire in the water pops Jason (Hodder) awake, he decides to tag along...taking the long awaited trip to the Big Apple. Killing a few defenseless teens and ignorant adults along the way as always.

For someone who has spent as long as I have with this series, watching the films repeatedly and blasting through the series in the last few weeks, this film makes NO SENSE. It's continuity is about as logical as pissing on a transformer. There are so many things new I learned from this movie that none of the others touched on. For example: the old lake is actual a giant harbor that leads out into the ocean. Jason can swim like a fish. Jason can teleport. Jason is a horrible shot (despite nailing a lady in part 3 from long range with a harpoon gun). Jason hates mirrors. New York is rabid with thugs and toxic waste (which could very well be true in real life as I have not been there). Giant ships have only three crew members. It's a good idea to take a row boat into a giant storm at sea. The list goes on and on and on and on and on. This movie has a plot that's built on so many rocky foundations and half fitted logic that trying to follow it makes on psychotically insane.

That's alright though. Many of the "Friday" films don't need a plot as long as there is a gimmick. Like taking Jason to New York, right? WRONG. Turns out he is only there for the last act. Most of it is Jason on a boat. Slaughtering ill developed teens and gimmicky characters that we could care less about. As fun as it sounds, it is repetitive and starved for utilizing the setting to its advantage. He gets to do some cool things like throw someone from the mast and headbutt through a port hole, but its still rather same old same old.

The film does earn some credit for clever shots, some oddly timed humor, and the unintentional laughs it creates through its awful writing and senseless plot points. Had the filmmakers and writers went all out for its ridiculousness and with its setting like they did for "Jason Lives", then this one could have been great. The comedic moments are just classic (the death of the boom box is still the best scene in the film) and even the illogical parts could be hilarious. The ending is so radically illogical (although I can't say it was any worse that part 7) that it had to spur laughter...otherwise my head would have exploded.

Despite getting some solid chuckles out of me, "Jason Takes Manhattan" is a lot of promises where few of them are kept. The kills are basic, the setting is not what its claimed to be, and the attempted plot is bogged down with poor characters and horrible logic. It leaves us with a film that's great for entertainment and unintentional laughter, but not for much beyond that...even for a slasher.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bulletproof Monk - 2/5

Chow Yun Fat is a remarkable actor. He can take cheesy roles like "Hard Boiled" and make them subtle character studies and he can blend fantastical elements and make them seem real as with "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon". Occasionally he does do some awful films, one of which being the American bastardization of kung fu known as "Bulletproof Monk". The film isn't entirely bad, it contains some funny moments and a clever enough buddy cop formula to get the point across, but it isn't good either falling apart at its own ridiculousness and over butchered script/directing.

A monk in the 1940s (Chow Yun Fat) becomes a mystical guardian for an ancient scroll that contains many secrets. When a group of Nazi's slaughters his temple and forces him to run, a continued game of cat and mouse lasts for decades until the monk finds a potential successor in Kar (Scott), a street wise thief who happens to know a bit of kung fu. Now its a race against time for the monk to train Kar before the Nazis close in and take the scroll.

Ah, the old monk on the run from Nazis routine. As if that was a plot foundation that was actually clever enough to be used more often. Combining elements of classic kung fu movies with more action oriented sequences from modern films (ergo ripping off "The Matrix" like every other film from this era), there is actually quite a bit of fun ideas here. Too bad the action scenes are far too silly to truly impress many of the kung fu fans and the story isn't funny enough to impress the buddy cop formula fans. "Bulletproof Monk" sits in this area of not being funny enough and not being action packed enough to please any of the potential fans.

Luckily, Chow Yun Fat is charming as always even at his worst. Seeing him handle two pistols even for a moment was grin worthy and Sean William Scott gets a couple of solid funny man moments for his lack luster character. Despite being a rather unique story though and having a couple of charming actors as leads, "Bulletproof Monk" is about as formulaic as they come - being completely predictable in plot progression and even more predictable in its poorly executed humor. It gets boring. Real quick.

"Bulletproof Monk" is just never enough of anything. It's not funny enough. Not martial arts enough. Not smart enough. Not ridiculous enough (it even has Nazi did that happen?). The film is a lot of pinches of different things, but never enough of any of it to leave a lasting impression. It is a completely forgettable film that shames many of the films it tries to homage. The potential was there, but it was never executed.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) - 3.5/5

Here is a bizarre little French film I picked up on DVD on a whim while browsing at a pawn shop and from the title and lurid cover artwork I was expecting some silly, comic book style Satanic Euro shocker from the 70s but that's not the case. Instead I was dished up an engrossing, seriously told tale showcasing a character study how two young women are corrupted by perversion and Satan to do heinous acts, hurting innocent victims along the way.

So we have two young women who were raised in strict Catholic households by wealthy families. They bore of their life of in the covenant and find interest in some forbidden readings. Soon they decent into perversion and corruption, partaking in Satanic rituals, seducing men, and torturing and killing animals. These women are deciding a dark path of destruction and they don't care who they destroy in their process.

Though there are exploitative elements present throughout the film, it's never to the over-the-top extent that director Joël Séria could have taken the subject matter. He actually treats the film very seriously with style and accomplished filmmaking, making an engrossing character study how two wealthy women with nothing better to do decide to make trouble. This serious approach to the subject matter made "Don't Deliver Us From Evil" a huge controversy over in Europe with it being banned in its home county for, get this, 'blasphemy'. Hard to believe a film could get banned in for that in today's day in age.

Joël Séria serious approach to the subject matter, mixed with his slower plotting, actually makes this almost an arthouse film. It gets labeled a 'horror' film by most people as for the fact it contains elements usually contained within that genre but 'horror' wouldn't be my first label for the film. It is by far more a drama, with a little horror and exploitation sprinkled on top.

The acting is top and our two young French actresses Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener are astounding in the roles, disturbingly so. There are a few sequences where their actions sent shivers down my spine and truly hated their characters for their actions. They even mix it up by even showing some remorse at some moments which was a thoughtful touch to the war going on in them.

Again this is NOT a mere Satanic shocker horror film from the 70s brimming with poor production values and cheese. This is a seriously taken DRAMA with a little horror and exploitation elements thrown into the mix topped with impressive direction, great acting with complex characters and a haunting score. Due to the serious nature of this film the tone made it rather disturbing, and sometimes hard to watch. Definitely not for the faint of heart and easily offended.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Final Destination 5 - 2.5/5

By the second film, the clever "Twilight Zone"-esque cleverness of the plot was already stale and by the fourth film, it was dry, derivative, and senile. Thusly, it was a must see for me to catch "Final Destination 5" (getting back on track with the numbered titles and all) just to see if the franchise could rescue itself from drowning. Ironically, it does. To an extent. It adds in a new twist to the tale and seems intent on making it known from the get go that this film isn't anything to be taken all that seriously. A move that may have saved it from being worse than the fourth entry.

A group of co-workers on their way to a company retreat are saved by Sam (D'Agosto) when he has a premonition that the massive bridge they are on will collapse and kill all of them but his on and off again girlfriend Molly (Bell). Thusly, he saves a handful of his friends from imminent death as the bridge collapses. When they start dying one by one at the hand of death whom they cheated so easily, the remaining friends are told of a way out of the pattern by an odd man (Todd) killing someone else and taking the rest of their life as their own. Can these friends cough up the courage to save themselves from death before it comes for them?

Right away the film seems to state that it has no intention of being taken all that seriously. The credits are of random things blasting at the audience through the screen in 3D (is that the "Friday The 13th" font there on the credits?) and the characters are painted with as little investment as possible. There is only enough to get us into the film and get us going on the basic plot. It works even if it isn't a great foundation to build a film on.

From there the film builds itself surprisingly well for a "FD" film. The director is competent enough to engage the tension and red herrings of the death sequences even if logic seems a bit out there and the plot uses its new "twist" (the killing another person in your place) to give us a rather intriguing bit of finale for the the final third of the film as our characters juggle with the idea. Even though the film isn't great on any of these levels, at least its attempting something new and fresh rather than just rehashing it for rehashing sake. The twist may seem a rather sudden in its development (from film experience I wouldn't trust a thing that Tony Todd tells me...the guy is fucking Candyman), but it works by the end of the film enough to make it enjoyable.

As for our death sequences, the opening bridge collapse is certainly the highlight (with all of the 3D effects, its even gorier than ever!) but some clever ones occur here. Not to the comedic extent that the fourth film seemed intent on pushing, with help from a director who makes the ridiculous situations seem dreadful and heart pounding and not being sucked into a swimming pool, the deaths work the nerves nicely even if by mid film they seemed to be just trying to get them out of the way just to proceed with the story line. It's gory, minutely clever, and the tension is finally back. What one expects from a "Final Destination" film, right?

"Final Destination 5" may not be a great film, but it works for the franchise and somewhat gets the series back on track after a horrid last couple of sequels. Will it ever come close to how cool the first one was when it was released? No. But "Final Destination 5" certainly brings it full circle, doesn't it? (Wink wink).

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crowley [Chemical Wedding] (2008) - 2/5

"Chemical Wedding" first garnered my attention SOLELY for the fact that Iron Maiden is my all time favorite band and their frontman Bruce Dickinson penned the script, his first feature film. The film drifted from memory over the next few years as I was unaware that it got re-titled "Crowley" for American release. One day while rummaging through a bargain bin at a local chain store, my eyes fell upon it and decided to plop down a few bucks just to see how 'bad' Dickinson's first foray into horror filmmaking turned out. Well my pre-conceived notion was correct as he needs to stick to writing amazing head banging metal music and keep his little over-achieving fingers out of the horror film market.

"Crowley" is about... who else, Aleister Crowley and the film is loosely, VERY LOOSELY inspired by the real life British occultist. Well we open with Crowley dying of leukemia in the 1940s and then we jump ahead to modern times when an American brings a virtual reality machine... whoa... wait a minute. A virtual reality machine?! Anytime that lame aspect is brought in you know a film is going to turn out to be a turd. Weren't we done with the whole virtual reality shit in the early 90s? Well I digress as the virtual reality machine 'reincarnates' the spirit of Crowley into the body of an elderly professor (Simon Callow) and of course he goes on a 'rampage', of sorts I guess.

If I can praise the plot of one aspect is that at least it's NOT a damn remake. Other that there is absolutely nothing original to this films approach. The ancient devil worshiper that gets killed and then gets resurrected decades later has been done to DEATH. Even the prospect of the villain stealing the guys girl for a sacrifice has spoiled from being overused.

In an attempt the cover-up the inept and tired plot devices, Bruce Dickinson loads the film up with metaphysical mumbo jumbo that just makes the mouthful dialogue a hoot of technobabble. Data of "Star Trek", eat your heart out! It seems when horror films start to mix quantum physics and religion it's just a recipe for disaster. The closest that formula has EVER come to working is in John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness" but even that resulted in an extremely flawed film product.

Director Julian Doyale, a veteran from many of the Monty Python films and numerous Terry Gilliam projects, brings a nice old school style look to the project, no doubt a nod to the old British Hammer Horror films of the past. Still the films final outlook seems rushed and hurried along in production as the editing is disjointed and the computerized special effects leave a lot to be desired.

The cast for the most part is made up of a bunch of novices and our young professor that's out to save his girl from being made a bride of Crowley is stiff and wooden as the rest of the cast. The one shinning light is Simon Callow who gives a no holds barred performance to the role of Crowley, especially since he no doubt had to bite his tongue extremely hard to stop from snickering at the vulgar and silly dialogue he had to spout out.

I really wanted to like "Crowley" but sorry to say I didn't. The plot is contrived and cliché and I actually ended up laughing more unintentionally at the film than anything else. The only thing really good about the film is Simon Callow's performance and the rockin' soundtrack which contains a few Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson tunes. Other than that I believe I have another dust collector to store on my DVD shelf. Sorry Bruce! I guess I better crank up the new Iron Maiden album to help erase this failed attempt at a horror film from memory.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] - 4.5/5

Let me be frank for one moment and just say that my expectations were not that high for "Cemetery Man". I'm not a particular fan of Italian genre films (great directors, horrible scripts) and the rather odd and confusing plot for this film didn't quite jive with my usual tastes. On my brother's repetitive request, I finally broke down and watched this oddity of a film. It blew me away. Quirky, unusual, and completely off the wall aptly describe the film, but the terms efficient, expertly written, and hilarious also describe my experience with "Cemetery Man". A combination that is as lethal in its smarts as it is in style, creating one of my new all time favorite films.

Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) is the grave keeper for a rather small town whose inhabitants are as quaint as can be. Dellamorte and his assistant Gnagi, a bald and rather mentally feeble man, are finding recent times tough. As of late, the dead being buried in the cemetery are coming back to life as zombies only to be dispatched with a blow to the head from his trusty pistol or spade. Afraid of losing his job, he tells no one. When the love of his life appears to mourn her recently lost husband, Dellamorte finds himself spiraling into a world where the living and the dead aren't as different as he thought.

What a strange fucking movie. From its odd beginning and quick introduction to our basic premise and our two protagonists to its mind twisting final act of nightmarish left turns, "Cemetery Man" is a film that's build on that Italian style of illogical plot leaps, but remains completely manageable due to expertly quirky writing/dialogue and a visual style that is piled on in heaps. The film is just fascinating to watch visually as it is to dissect its symbolic plot. This combination of eyebrow lifting mind bends in plot and hilarious situational black humor is perfectly balanced.

Similar to a style that Peter Jackson used in his early career with "Dead Alive" and to an extent on films like "The Frighteners", this film isn't afraid to blend horror, comedy, and drama  into a frappe of entertainment. Everett gives a more than solid performance in the lead with his subtle and often hilarious narration highlighting some of the great moments of the film. Add to that a supporting cast that only raises the ante of his performance (including a heart tugging and quirky performance for his assistant) and special effects to pine over - including a killer looking reaper and plenty of goofy zombie action - this film rocks it on screen with delight.

It must also be mentioned that director Michele Soavi matches the oddity of this script with some of the most clever and unusual directorial work I've seen in a long time. Shots that pull back through TVs, reflection shots off of cemetery puddles, and even a flying zombie head shot where the camera is set in its mouth (oh hell yeah) are all here in abundance. He takes this off the wall script and transferring it to screen with precision.

If you are looking for an off-beat horror/comedy that balances its genres to near perfection and boasts some of the best quotes in decades, than "Cemetery Man" is a must see. It's disturbing, violent, and visually effective all the while being funny as hell. An instant classic.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, August 13, 2011

French Sex Murders, The (1972) - 2/5

With a name like "The French Sex Murders" you know the film is going to be brimming with class. Well what else can you expect from smarmy schlock producer Dick Randall who traveled all over the world to hop onto any bandwagon he could in order to make a quick buck. With "The French Sex Murders" he jumped on the Italian Giallo train of success going as far as giving the film a title that would capture more attention and even casting a professional Humphrey Bogart lookalike as the lead inspector. Well if he was shooting for making a trashy Giallo murder mystery with the most ridiculous plot twist imaginable then he succeeded.

Our film opens with a man jumping off the Eiffel Tower to his death then we jump into a plot of a young man that steals some precious jewels. His first stop is a bordello (headed by cult icon Anita Ekberg) to ask his favorite prostitute to marry him. She refuses and proceeds to beat the shit out of her calling her a whore (hmmm.... was he unaware of her profession). Well after his departure the prostitute is found dead so in comes inspector 'Bogart' who captures the goon while threatening to hurt his ex-wife and her new lover (this guy is so loveable!). He escapes after being convicted of murder the next day (the courts work fast in Europe apparently) only to behead himself in a motorcycle accident. Well apparently he wasn't the killer as the murders continue on as people connected to the bordello mysteriously start to die off.

Producer Dick Randall and director Ferdinando Merighi throw everything they can into this poor example of a Giallo in order to make it stand out when compared to other films in the over saturated genre. Not only to we get in in-your-face title and a Humphrey Bogart look-a-like but also mad scientists, a murderous eyeball collector, hooded figures, incestuous fathers and even supernatural elements when our thief threatens to rise from the dead and later his bodiless head blinks! Seriously what-the-fuck! They also throw in the most ridiculous plot twist in Giallo history at the end when it is revealed who the real killer is and his true motive behind his actions.

Ferdinando Merighi, a real nobody in Italian cinema, was a cheap Dario Argento wanna-be that desperately tries to make the film 'stylistic' but instead his approaches are just more annoying. When our thief is convicted and he threatens the whole court that he will rise from grave, Merighi has the picture go to negative colors. Really? The most annoying aspect is that every killing in the film is replayed at least four times simultaneously, each time the picture toned a different color (red, blue, yellow, etc). Seriously this was just a lame method in order to mimic much more successful directors in the genre.

The cast may be full of interesting Euro cult actors but this is an extremely poor example of the Giallo genre, even for a more trashy entry. The filmmakers throw everything in but the kitchen sink to make this stand out among other, much better examples but nothing sticks. It's worth a look for fans of bizarre cinema but there are much better, more entertaining examples of the genre available and fans wanting a truly interesting trashy entry are better off hunting down "The Case of the Bloody Iris."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, August 12, 2011

Season Of The Witch (2011) - 1.5/5

The fact that this film was pushed back numerous times to be released hardly spelled good things for "Season Of The Witch", but it did add to the sheer bliss factor of seeing a horrible movie. Not to mention it has Nicolas Cage in it (who looks quite like the lead singer of Nickelback for this film) and Ron Perlman. This is destined to be a horrible film classic of crappy proportions. Ironically, it lived up to it! Ha ha!

Two crusaders (Cage and Perlman) found themselves shaken in the killing for the church. Their devotion to God is strong, but not so much for the church. So they abandon their lives as Crusade heroes and push forward as wanderers. When they are spotted as deserters they are given the choice of being forgiven of their crimes if they take a young woman claimed to be a witch, to a distant castle where the monks contain the last manual to test if she has made a pact with the devil. Things may not be what they seem, though and their trip may be for the wrong purpose. 

Let's start off with what I thought was pretty decent about "Season Of The Witch". Firstly, I think the story itself is fun and hoaky. Had it been made in 1988 I would have a near and dear spot for it in my heart. It's surface level stuff that never really attempts to go much deeper than the basics, but the main story itself is cheesy fun. Also, it's hard to go wrong with Ron Perlman. Even in the worst films (here's looking at you "Mutant Chronicles") he has a presence that stands out at a cult fans dream. Maybe its because I've seen him in so many movies I love that even at his worst, I love watching him throw down. And then there's....well...that's about it.

From those highlights of the film, we slowly dive bomb into drivel that only Hollywood could concoct and screw up. The dialogue is atrocious (seemingly like they tried to make it fit in the time period, but not wanting to give up some of the standard mainstream comedic relief) and our cast rarely makes it worth watching them deliver it. Cage is over acting his damn best here and Perlman is given nothing but standard 'sidekick' comments and surface value emotions to express. The rest of the cast is forgettable (thanks!) and director Dominic Sena, known for such 'classics' like the "Gone In 60 Seconds" remake and "Swordfish", does nothing to give the film any style of its own. It's your basic Hollywood fantasy crap here. Tons of useless CGI and cheap sets that aren't used in clever ways to overcome their faults as plot points. Yawn. Even the dreaded 'pushing the carriage over a rotted bridge upon a gorge' scene is not bad enough to enjoy and not near good enough to cause tension.

This film could have been fun. They needed to embrace the cheesy concept for what it is, push legit special effects instead of half assed CGI ones, and use the talents involved to their strengths rather than cramming actors into roles that they obviously could give two shits about. As is, "Season Of The Witch" is a modern Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder film that goes all the wrong ways at all the wrong times. Not much recommendation here.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

300 - 3/5

"300" sits in sort of a love/hate spot for me. Partially because its not a very good movie when its stripped down from all of its style and visual glory, and partially because its obvious that this film knows its not very good. This duel reality leads me to love it in all of its over the top ridiculousness, but never lets me forget that it actually could have been a great film.

King Leonidas (Butler) finds himself in a bit of a spot. The Persians have been conquering land after land and their mighty army is knocking on the door of his mighty Sparta. Yet the mystics have banned Sparta from going to war against these foes. Leonidas decides instead of declaring war on the Persians, he will take his 300 mightiest soldiers and take the enemy head on, hoping to stem the tide until the politicians of his people see their lunacy and send reinforcements. Can these 300 Spartans stop an entire army lead by self proclaimed god in time?

Based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, it's easy to see why this film pulls a lot from the style that Rodriguez and company developed for the Miller "Sin City" adaption. It basically looks like a live motion comic with its significant amount of CGI (they even computer generate the abs on the men) and given the talent for visual flair that Zack Snyder has, it works to create a visual feat that is simply stellar. Over the top, oh yes, but very comic book like and epic. Stealing scenes pretty much shot for shot from the comic also helps give it that feeling with the shading/color schemes.

The film is visually arresting and it certainly plays up to the ridiculousness and shoots it to unseen heights. The gore is plenty (all CGI, mind you), the violence is unsubdued, the slow motion non-stop, and random nudity abounds. They play this film up to all those aspects, sometimes to surprising effect (we love violent movies here at Blood Brothers) and sometimes to hilarious effect. Butler seems to always talk with all his teeth bared and a look of insanity in his eyes. Epic, but rather humorous too.

This style is played to it's fullest. Looks like a comic, feels like a comic, even sounds like a comic would. Unfortunately, this hurts the film too. The pacing is shoddy, the story is rather simplified and underdeveloped in many aspects (including a rather misused political back story with the Queen), and the emotional connection with the audience - that is does try and establish - is weak at its best. The potential for its solid story and emotional value is cashed in for visual flair and focuses on the 'bad-ass-ness' of the film. Something I can't entirely agree with.

"300" is a fun watch. It's ridiculous, visually effective, and entertaining as dining in hell, but the film is rather impotent when it comes to investing emotions and pacing - two things which undermine the experience. All in all, Zack Snyder proves strong visually, but the film is much weaker than the soldiers it portrays.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sole Survivor (1983) - 3.5/5

With "Final Destination 5" hitting theaters soon I found it fitting to revisit the 1983 low budget horror film "Sole Survivor", a wonderful forgotten picture that the lame higher budgeted "Final Destination" franchise totally ripped off. Seriously it's amazing how many high budget Hollywood films rip-off low budget rarely seen films from a decade or two before with no credit. There's just enough difference in the plots to not to warrant a legal battle, unlike Michael Bay's "The Island" which completely ripped off "Parts: The Clonus Horror" scene by scene.

A hard working commercial producer miraculously survives and is the sole survivor of a tragic airplane crash. Soon peculiar things begin to happen as you see she wasn't supposed to survive. Now death wants her and soon recently dead corpses rise up to drag her sorry soul to her 'final destination.' Can she outwit Death with the help of a her concerned doctor boyfriend?

The creep factor is high in this engrossing horror thriller as director Thom Eberhardt (more famous for his cult classic "Night of the Comet") crafts each scene to the max with well paced suspense. There are a few scenes that will get your hair to stand up on end... like a scene where a corpse chases our survivor in a dark parking garage. CREEPY!

Budget restraints does hurt the film from time to time. An example is the opening plane crash which can't even be shown. We instead watch a black monitor showing a blip disappear and then we read about the crash. The acting can also be a little shady at times but hardly terrible. Our lead, Anita Skinner, is obviously a novice and I found her performance to be a little less than engaging. The same can be said for our love interest Kurt Johnson as his wooden performance hardly makes his love for our survivor truly seem real.

Even with its few flaws "Sole Survivor" ranks along "Dead & Buried" as one of the best forgotten horror films I have ever seen. Seriously why isn't this film better known? Sure the acting can be a little blow par at times but the sure handed direction and engrossing plot will be sure to suck any horror fan in... unless of course you are one of those horror fans that believes horror is ONLY blood and guts with no suspense or atmosphere. I say hunt this gem down and watch it before any of the shitty "Final Destination" sequels. I recommend buying the Code Red DVD as soon as possible as rumor has it will being going out of print.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bodyguards And Assassins (2009)

Director: Teddy Chan
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Nicholas Tse, Eric Tsang, Simon Yam, Cung Le

In Donnie Yen's recent kick of being in everything insanely awesome coming out of China and strutting his stuff as one of the best action stars in the last decade, it was only the fan in me that would have to get "Bodyguards And Assassins" even if he is only supporting cast. Don't care. He is that awesome. Luckily, this film rises above its stunningly placed cast as a semi-historical based drama and occasional martial arts flick. It's stunningly well acted and its in depth characters are made light of with solid use of the setting. Not a perfect film, but it's effectiveness at creating the world of 1906 Hong Kong drama and blending it with a plethora of martial arts styles is worth the purchase.

Sun Wen is coming back to Hong Kong to meet with various leaders to discuss a revolution against the Qing Dynasty. This sports a problem for those in power within the government, but since Hong Kong is under British control they can't do much in the public eye. So assassins are sent to stop Sun Wen. This sports a problem for the supports of the revolution in Hong Kong including father/businessman Li Yutang (Wang Xueqi) and his print partner Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung Ka-fai). To counteract this, they ask the favor of many of their friends and allys to bodyguard the leader for just a few hours - including antihero policeman Shen Chongyang (Yen) - leading to a very intense visit that one will not forget.

How many puns could I make stating this film was a "kick" to watch?
Although very much portrayed as a martial arts film in its marketing in the US, be forewarned..."Bodyguards And Assassins" is more drama than anything else. It spends at least half of the film building up the tension, setting, characters, plot, and style to give us a foundation for the heart of this film being the Sun Wen visit. As much as it was surprising for me, it's very well done. The acting in this film is superb on all fronts and most every character is well built and completely connectable. Particular nods go to Nicholas Tse as A-Si whose ricksaw puller and family servant whose loyalty and dedication brought tears to my eyes a few times throughout the film. He stole every scene he was in. The only flaws that this film contains in this portion are some of its awkward structuring and some characters who are left a little light in back story (with finger pointed to the beggar character).

High flying there any other kind?
With all this build up though, it was only fitting that the visit from Sun Wen be as epic as possible. It is. The chase through the streets of Hong Kong as assassins leap from buildings, shoot arrows from windows, blow up whole houses, and throw down sword fights is nothing short of stunning in many moments. The brilliance behind this chase is in two areas: how long it sustains the chase and how many styles of martial arts they throw in. We have weapon fighting, aerial sword/fan fight (which is very Yuen Woo Pang in style), shootouts with arrows, and of course, Donnie Yen's brutal fist fighting style and a semi-free running sequence. Yeah, its a lot going on and it never loses focuses on what was built on with the characters in the initial run. It's beautifully done and worth the watch alone.

The film does miss out on some great characters with their build and some of the pacing for the film seems rather forced (as if it wanted to say more, but felt inclined to get the plot moving), but overall "Bodyguards And Assassins" rocks its fictional/historical tale to the core with great characters, better acting, and a finale crafted to impress.

Written By Matt Reifschneider
If you want to be swayed by this review, then I suggest clicking on the links below and purchasing "Bodyguards And Assassins" from Amazon to help support the site! Let the kung fu reign!