Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Little Eye (2002) - 3.5/5

Recently I wrote about how word of mouth can ruin films by building too much hype. Let's look at the other side of that proverbial coin and see how word of mouth can lead one to discover some very underrated films. "My Little Eye" for example. Rumor had it that this little indie Brit thriller was surprisingly effective and (once again) curiosity grabbed me by the hair and dragged me into the film. The verdict? "My Little Eye" is a surprisingly intense little ditty that works its low budget with artistic spin on a rather mundane concept.

Five of your rather cliche reality show personalities have signed up for an intense new internet only show. Untitled and funded by a group who keep it discreet for the sake of "leaked secrets", these unsuspecting contestants are going to each be given one million dollars for living together for six months in a remote location with no connection to the outside world. The only rule: no one leaves. When they start receiving odd packages at their door with only a week left, they begin to suspect that it has become more than just a webcast reality where the winner might not take all.

It's a simple film really and one with a gimmick that doesn't seem original in this day and age. Isolated house with no where to go. Paranoid and confrontational individuals. Suspicious motives and activities. It's a suspense trap that with an effective director and cast should work quite well. Unfortunately, it only has one of those two things. One out of two isn't bad though in this case.

"My Little Eye" succeeds by sheer will and artistic vision from it's director, Marc Evans. It's budget is Mariana Trench low and it's cast (sans a rather odd appearance from a young Bradley Cooper as a lost traveler) is massively hit or miss. That's a lot working against you. Somehow...he pulls it off. Using the massive amount of webcams set around the house as his angles and shots, he has a ton of fun giving a lot of suspense and tension from the limitations. Things happen off screen. Sound cuts out and becomes digitally distorted. The editing is fantastic in between time lapses and places and despite its basic plot, the script works very well in getting the audience to buy into its twists and seemingly insidious subtleties. These are what sells "My Little Eye" so impressively.

The lacking budget and cast do hurt the film overall, but some great creative directing and strong writing make this a gem in the rough. Although it would never find its mainstream audience since its 2002 release, if you are looking for a solid thriller than look no further than "My Little Eye".

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003) - 3/5

"Mimic" was a surprisingly awesome science fiction horror crossbreed and its eventual sequel was a affair, but what can one expect from its third entry of the franchise? Well, its a film buried as a straight to DVD release whose budget constrains the film from reaching the heights it might have reached. Luckily, director/writer JT Petty makes some clever decisions for the film to give it enough of a unique spin that it holds itself far above simply being a cash in film.

Marvin (Geary), one of the few surviving children of the disease that decimated the city in the first "Mimic", might be stuck in his allergy free room, but that doesn't prevent him from trying to live life outside of the walls through his camera and pictures. His little sister (Dziena) helps out in his quest (including introducing him to the beautiful neighbor (Mader) from across the ally), but when a mysterious new figure appears and neighbors begin to disappear Marvin and his friends must figure out how the Judas breed might be involved.

Coming across as a "Rear Window" knock-off playing in the "Mimic" universe, the surprising artistic value of "Sentinel" overshadows many of its budgetary and execution restraints. We are lead to connect with the surprisingly charming lead actor and his plight against his own weaknesses and the threats of an outside world while director Petty does some admirably clever things visually to work the budget to full effect. Even though much of the supporting cast is sub-par in their roles (the sister annoys more than conveys the rebellious nature), it's easily outdone with its knack for style and suspense.

One aspect many seem discouraged with is the lacking special effects. Considering its a film about giant man eating cockroaches, the film downplays the special effects. It's a ballsy move. "Sentinel" and Petty work it pretty brilliantly though with solid enough atmosphere and tension. The use of shadows and the claustrophobia to take the focus off of the effects is clever and useful considering the low budget. Just look at the poor CGI and suit effects at the end and tell me it wasn't a good idea to move away from that. Petty does make some great scenes with little effects like the refrigerator scene with the blinking light of the door opening and closing and I appreciate the film's sense of knowing what they had to work with.

Being honest with you, I was relatively surprised with the quality of "Sentinel". It makes clever choices with its direction and use of connections to the previous films and the style certainly benefits the film. "Sentinel" does suffer from its rather unoriginal scripting formula, poor acting, and low budget - but considering what it might have been without the style - just color me impressed.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Once Upon a Time in China (1991) - 4.5/5

When a film's title begins with the phrase "Once Upon a Time..." it has a reputation to live up to grand and epic standards set by director Sergio Leone with his mesmerizing cinema classics "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America". I am proud to say that "Once Upon a Time in China" not only lives up to the grand standards with the preconceived notions of the title, it ends up being one of the best Hong Kong films I have ever seen by going far and above the normal trappings of the typical martial arts film.

The film follows the life of Wong Fei Hong (portrayed by Jet Li), a historical legend in China for his renowned skill in martial arts. This historical setting takes place in the late 1800s with the invasion of the British and other foreigners. Fei Hong must take on local gangs, corrupt government officials and the "foreign devils" in order to preserve the cultural heritage of China.

This film marks the 99th time a film about the historical figure Wong Fei Hong... and that's quite a feat. Though I haven't seen even a fraction of the films based on him I would be confident to say that "Once Upon a Time in China" has to be one of the best, if not the best, film to portray the character even if the historical context of the film may take plenty of leeway with his story. Jet Li is just captivating in the lead role with his martial arts grace and his character is punctuated to greater extent by colorful secondary characters, which includes a stuttering western educated dork and hefty merchant. The addition of a character oddly named "Aunt 13" adds a shy and cute romantic interest which beautifully contrasts against the chaotic and violent political backdrop.

The direction by renowned director Tsui Hark is just dripping with cinematic greatness. He was one of the first Hong Kong directors to really take interest in good dialogue and cinematic style in order to tell a captivating story as opposed to just focusing on martial arts action sequences... but don't let that fool you into thinking the martial arts fights sequences are lacking. He loads the film up with some of the best fight sequences to ever be found in the the martial arts genre by mixing both practical and wire work. He films these sequences to tremendous skill and dexterity by always placing the camera in alluring angles to get the most out of every fight sequence.

If the film would be guilty of anything it would for being overly ambitious. The script tries to tackle too many aspects at once making the story overly complex and confusing at moments, especially watching the uncut Hong Kong version in its original Chinese Language with English subtitles. Hark tries to convey that Hung is trying to save his country from "foreign devils" as his beloved homeland was decaying from corrupt officials. All this introduces too many characters that can make it hard for the audience to follow. The story of Hung's beef with a rival gang, on the other side of the spectrum, isn't elaborated on enough, with the motivations of each side flimsy at best.

Even with its faults of being too ambitions, "Once Upon a Time in China" ends up being the best Asian martial arts film I have ever seen. It takes the "martial arts" film to the next level by combining jaw-dropping action sequences with entrancing film-making and dialogue to make a truly great cinematic experience. This new style to the martial arts film resonated with Chinese audiences who were sick of slap-stick comedy and art-house approaches to the genre as the film was a huge success, paving the way to five entertaining sequels.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, February 24, 2012

Task, The (2011) - 2/5

After Dark films has a knack for covering a wide range of films. By wide range, I mean wide range of quality that goes from impressively awesome to abysmal crap. I've even given up trying to guess which ones are which. This is why I tried to go into "The Task" with blank expectations. "Seconds Apart" was surprisingly effective, but "Area 51" was horrifyingly terrible. Where would "The Task" fit? As it would turn out, it fits right about in-between.

A group of cliche people are chosen to be part of a new reality TV horror show entitled 'The Task'. The group of producers and tech guys are anxiously awaiting their shot at making it big, while these contestants are put in fear's path by having to stay the night in a supposedly haunted abandoned prison with a horrible history. The producers have lined up a series of frightening tasks for these contestants, but the biggest trick of them all just might be that the real ghosts of the prison have a few tasks of their own.

So basically, "The Task" is a modern twist on "The House On Haunted Hill"...expect not quite as good as the remake even was (which isn't saying much). Group of (insert connected young group of people here) are killed off by the ghosts of an abandoned (insert terrifying place here) while thinking its part of a game. Familiar eh? Even the reality show twist doesn't quite save it from seeming cliche. It has its moments of fun ridiculousness like the asinine contestants, but more often than not its just simply run of the mill.

So if the characters are gimmicky and the story rather cliche, it better have some solid scares to sell it. Pfft. You wish. "The Task" has remarkably ineffective scares and kill sequences. Our shirtless and mustached villain rarely makes one cringe and our characters are knocked off in rather bland ways. Shank? No shit. Gas chamber? Wow. That's original. I definitely could have used a bit more of an intense take on the horror aspects of the film.

In the end "The Task" isn't horrible, but it rarely stands out against the usual horror shrapnel that makes its way to home release anymore. It has a few moments here and there...not enough to really make it one of the After Dark Original highlights though.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Little Deaths (2011) - 2/5

Sometimes underground word of mouth can be deceiving. Fans of a certain film will talk it up to death claiming it the best thing you haven't seen or horrendously underrated. It gets to a point where the film can't live up to its hype. That's how "Little Deaths" was. The word of mouth talked up the film so much that its quirky artistic style simply couldn't live up to it. It didn't help that this anthology horror film certainly seemed to carry an air of "too artsy for its own good" to go with the disappointing hype, leaving a film that just seemed like an attempt at being edgy without the actual weight to do so.

Story One: A higher end couple takes pity on a homeless woman in good neighborly sense. They offer to feed her, bathe her, and house her for one night in the name of doing their fellow man a little good. Too bad they have other intentions with their house guest that aren't so decent. Story Two: A couple of down and out drug dealers stumble on the newest thing. A little pill that makes one feel completely whole. Unfortunately, the makers of this new drug have disturbing ways of getting its expensive raw materials and our down and out female protagonist is going to see the results first hand. Story Three: A young man and woman have had trouble with their relationship as of a late. They just can't seem to get onto the same page with where they are at. With a new little game to add pizzazz to their sex life though, the couple may push themselves to all new areas...not all of which are healthy.

Basically, "Little Deaths" is three separate short films attached to one another based on the basic theme of 'fucked up people doing fucked up sexual things to other fucked up people'. Not necessarily a blockbuster kind of theme to get a film massive distribution. "Little Deaths" does do it with enough sense of art that it doesn't fall down into exploitation territory (although it comes damn close at times) and completely detaches from its audience which is nice.

Although each of the films do certainly have their own aspects, the threaded style is very similar. The acting is done in a very realistic tone with its gloom color schemes and uber-realistic style of filming. This almost makes the more outrageous elements stand out like sores and makes it flow rather awkwardly. The ending of the first story takes an almost supernatural twist and the entirety of the second drug story seem more like episodes of "Masters Of Horror" with its borderline "twist" tones. This leaves the third story as the highlight as it blends the artistic elements more fluidly with the overall realistic tone of the film.

In the end, the film just failed to suck me in like it should have to sell the concept. The anthology style seems tacked together quickly (and with clever anthology films like "Chillerama" and "Trick R Treat" doing it so well it seems sub par here) and the artistic attempts can be forced. People do seem to really enjoy it - I'm definitely the black sheep of my friends and acquaintances - but "Little Deaths" just couldn't get me into it. When a film focuses on realism, this is the ultimate bad thing and "Little Deaths" falls prey to it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Five Element Ninjas [Chinese Super Ninjas] (1982) - 3.5/5

To be perfectly honest, my favorite films from the Shaw Brothers are the Venom films from Chang Cheh. "5 Deadly Venoms" is my favorite king fu film of all time and everything that can be associated with it instantly has my attention. Enter "Five Element Ninjas". Definitely a gimmicky kung fu film, this little vengeance story is crafted around the mysteriousness and lethality of ninjistu while using it in the classic Chinese kung fu format. It's pretty formulaic in its delivery (what of Chang Cheh's films aren't to some degree?), but its hard to deny how fun and brutal this film is. One that makes it with charm despite its ridiculous concept.

When two rival kung fu schools take it to the next level, the one school desperately reaches out to Japan for help. When their hired samurai fails to make the cut (no pun intended), he sends word back to have a clan of ninja come back for revenge. After these ninja assassins decimate the school, our young survivor hero must learn the deadly art of ninjistu, band together with a few new recruits, and take it to the themed ninja who killed his family.

To say that "Five Element Ninjas" is a film based on a gimmick doesn't properly convey just how gimmicky this film is. A clan of ninja all based on five elements (wood, water, metal, earth, and fire) who have to be defeated by a well trained group of kung fu brothers? It also doesn't convey just how awesome it is. You get to see a whole lot of ninja assassin techniques (albeit sometimes silly like dressing like trees) and of course lots of people kicking each other's asses. The fighting and choreography most certainly highlight this film with the finale being the best (the ax fighting against the Metal ninja is phenomenal). It's a gimmick, but damn if its not entertaining.

Beyond that, "Five Element Ninjas" is rather mediocre. The characters are rather basic, the villain is decent enough, and the acting is good enough, but overall its your basic Shaw Brothers kind of film. Not a whole lot in plot twists and progression to give it unique flavor here, but when you have gimmicks and choreography this much fun who needs that stuff?

Shaw Brothers fans will certainly love "Five Element Ninjas" for its fun premise and great choreography. Film fans may criticize it for being formulaic and mediocre in writing. Luckily, I'm more former along with the latter and this film earns its way into one of my favorites for the studio.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, February 17, 2012

Buried (2010) - 4.5/5

Color me skeptical, but spending an hour and a half with Ryan Reynolds in only a coffin seemed like a gimmick that I wasn't ready to jump into before watching "Buried". I saw "Green Lantern" and that made me want to bury Reynolds enough. He couldn't possibly carry a film on his shoulders though...right?

An Iraq bound truck driver Paul (Reynolds) wakes up buried alive in a wooden coffin. After an attack on his convoy of materials, he is being held for ransom. With only a handful of items left for him in his pocket (including a cell phone), Paul has to find a way to escape his doom before oxygen runs out...

Even though Reynolds is the only actor featured on screen in the film, it's not him that carries this film. It's director Cortes. Cortes and his insane ability to glue me to the damn screen for 90 minutes with just a coffin, the charm of Reynolds, and odd lighting elements. With the limited dialogue (the character does seem to remember a ton of phone numbers to keep that at a maximum) and only lighting from elements within the coffin - a blue cell phone screen, a yellow lighter flame, and green glow sticks - "Buried" works pure magic to keep the intensity up. Cortes uses all kinds of Hitchcockian tricks with the use of dark, silence, camera angles, long moments of nothing, and bursts of character insanity to keep this film moving. Not to be overly dramatic, but its like watching art unfold on screen as Cortes throws everything but the conventional to make this film work. It's beautiful.

Even Reynolds can't fuck this one up. His charisma (and limited wise cracks) plays to his benefit as he earns his merit with the limited dialogue and plot twists. Occasionally the film can be a bit forced in its progressions including a snake scene that seems to pop out of the blue a bit, but Reynolds delivers when its needed and he rarely deviates from the style to make it seem forced. A move that he accomplishes with surprising ease. Who knew Reynolds could hold a film like this?

If there is one thriller that earns its Hitchcock references, it's "Buried". Intense, provocative in character work, and stunningly clever with its "gimmick" this film wows its way into my 'must see' modern cult film list. Now I wish that I hadn't waited so long to watch it thinking it was more gimmick than talent. Cortes is a director to watch from this point on.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Woman In Black, The (2012) - 3/5

Once again I find myself in a conundrum. This new version of "The Woman In Black" (originally a book, then a play, then a movie, now a remake from Hammer studios) is a wonderfully charming old school chiller. I love it for its decidedly classic approach to the period story, yet felt completely uninspired by it at the same time. It leaves me torn on this surprisingly successful film as I came away from it feeling unfulfilled with it as a whole, but loving so many aspects about it. Thusly the film ends up with a '3' on the rating scale as it doesn't quite invoke the scares I wanted it to while doing all the right things.

Mr. Kipps (Radcliffe), whose life has been torn from the loss of his wife in childbirth to his now four year old son, has been given a last chance at his job. He is sent to a remote village in the outskirts of Britain to work his way through a mountain of paper work on an empty house that's supposedly haunted. His job on the line, he pushes through the creepy house and the isolating tides to finish the work. When he begins to experience odd things, seeing a woman in black while children of the town come to mysterious deaths, Mr. Kipps must decide whether his work is truly as important as helping the terrified town folk with their deadly mystery.

I'll be the first to admit, "The Woman In Black" is a beautiful film. The wonderful artistic designs of the massively creepy house and the general foggy atmosphere of the film cakes on an almost painting like look to the film of dreary colors and period set dialogue. This is matched with some potent ghost scares that work on that look for the film in spades as it takes time to build up tensions for the jumps. It's not a fast paced film by any means, but with such a beautiful design I was more than willing to take it all in with its pacing.

For the most part, I did enjoy the film beyond its build. It's decidedly old school in it's structure and simplicity and I admire the approach that Hammer and company took. It just didn't always work the way it seem intended. Firstly, Radcliffe seems a tad young for the role. He handled it well (the audience member that screamed "I love you Harry Potter" when he first appeared, obviously wasn't sold on his role) and worked with ease in many of the longer scenes that were meant to build tension, but I wasn't sold on him being a forlorn lost soul.

It also doesn't help that often enough the scares felt a bit forced at times with lots of loud sounds and boo moments to get the audience to jump that betrayed the creepiness of the atmosphere. It's as if the film itself was trapped in a purgatory between being a mainstream ghost film and one that desperately wanted to be an old school artistic film. Almost like a full on period version of "Dead Silence" at times.

For those willing to overlook the obvious catering to a younger audience with its casting and forced jump scares, there is still a lot of admire about "The Woman In Black". It's got great caked on atmosphere and wonderfully built tension with its designs and many of the longer shots did have me holding my breath in suspense. Unfortunately, just like the bogs that its haunted house resides in - at high tide its simply watered down and too simple for its own good - lacking the ground to really get its haunted house concept running at full speed.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bloodlust: Subspecies III (1994) - 2/5

Why, oh why is the second of two back-to-back made sequels always the worst of the two?! Seriously, name me one instance where the second is better (and no, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy doesn't count as they were all filmed at once). "Matrix Revolutions" was worse than "Matrix Revelations", "Trancers 5" is worse than "Trancers 4" and of course "Subspecies III" is worse than "Subspecies II". There just wasn't enough plot to pad this entry out so what we get is a dull "Beauty and the Beast" clone with blood suckers.

Opening right after the second film, our 'mummy' resurrects our drooling blood fiend Radu and now he miraculously decides that he loves our crying heroin Michelle Morgan (Denice Duff again) despite trying to kill her off brutally for a majority of "Subspecies II". Michelle's sister and her boyfriend continue, unsuccessfully, to rescue her even with the help of a dimwitted inspector and a mercenary CIA operative.

I praised director Ted Nicolaou in my review for "Subspecies II" for tightening up the pace but here he fumbles the ball as the film meanders along with it's tragic 'love' story, and I use the term 'love' in the loosest form possible. He attempts to make a tragic "Beauty in the Beast" clone with vampires yet how can a love story bloom when our heroin despises the vampire beast so much. I mean this fucker brutally killed all here friends and even attempted to kill here so no love is going to bloom EVER!

Because the plot doesn't have anywhere to go our heroin Michelle mostly stands around crying AGAIN while Radu attempts to teach his crush how to thrive as a vampire. He even starts to feel sorry for the atrocities he committed in the previous films... which I call bullshit! The only part of the film that got me involved is the introduction of a peculiar CIA operative who is a gung-ho mercenary complete with machine guns to take the blood suckers on, which just makes it more hilarious when he is quickly done in with a flying knife.

Like most back-to-back made sequels there just wasn't enough plot to pad out another film. Unlike "Subspecies II", the plot here is slow and plodding with a long title and flashback sequence in order to pad it out to a feature film length. The production values are on par with the last film hence they are great by Full Moon standards but overall there isn't enough going on in this sequel to warrant it a 'must see'. Though it would have been fitting to stop here to round out a trilogy, Full Moon unwisely decided to make one more sequel but I advise stopping here.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Love Me Deadly (1973) - 3/5

Necrophilia... now there's a subject that's even too taboo for the horror genre to tackle too often. For those that don't know, the basic definition is "sex with a corpse". As one can see the word doesn't spell 'box office block buster' with such a grim and disgusting definition and most horror films that deal with the subject, like "Nekromantik", play it for all out gross-out effect. "Love Me Deadly" however is far more subtle with the subject matter, delving into a person going through self-discovery of their sickening attraction and ends up being far better than one would expect with such a plot device.

A beautiful blond (played by Mary Wilcox) with daddy issues is making the rounds at funeral homes, attending funerals of young to middle aged men in order to get some alone time with the deceased to get her freak on. A macabre funeral director takes notice in here multiple appearances and invites here to join a group who share the same desires. Struggling with her fetish, she can't break her attraction despite falling in love and marrying. Will her husband find out about her ghoulish past time activities?

Though it has disturbing scenes, writer/director Jacques Lacerte handles the subject matter with maturity and doesn't go the route of complete gross-out just for the effect of making audiences throw up in their barf buckets. The plot is engrossing as we follow this beauty and here self-discovery of her grotesque deserves. Actress Mary Wilcox effectively establishes the war within herself, knowing the act is wrong but can't help but caving in. There is also an interesting subplot which revolves around our macabre funeral home director that accosts gay gigolos only to kill them to have his way with them after death.

The film does tread into some unintentional laughter territory as our Necro Blond does lead several of here friends and family members into the funeral home only to have them killed off. Seriously, it's like three or four times. I'm surprised the funeral home director just didn't have her killed off in order to save on headache of killing people that discovered his secret coven of necrophiliacs.

For a low budget drive-in flick, director Jacques Lacerte could have easily taken the film into gross-out territory in order to sell more tickets and I applaud him for taking the film more seriously. Still the sick premises does have a number of disturbing scenes but the film overall is a slow burner, taking it's time to build up to a memorable ending. Don't expect any jump scares or sheer terror, "Love Me Deadly" is a slow builder of creepy and off-beat atmosphere and definitely worth a watch for fans of horror films that lie a little outside the box, or would a better term be casket?

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shark Night [Shark Night 3D] (2011) - 2/5

David R Ellis is known for giving us some very "classic" horror gems like "Final Destination 2", "Snakes On A Plane", and "The Final Destination". At times I feel bad for the guy because its obvious that they give him the shittiest scripts at all possible because he can make them mainstream enough to sell them to a large audience. Take his latest crap film "Shark Night" for a prime example. He fought to have the title of the film to be "Untitled 3D Shark Thriller" so its obvious he knew how bad it was and wanted to run with that. Doesn't help it though, as the title he fought for aptly describes how memorable the film actually is. It's about as generic as possible and when it isn't following a formula its worse not better.

A group of college kids get a hankering for some weekend fun when they are invited to the wetlands and some lake fun at their friend Sara (Paxton)'s house. None of them realize quite why Sara has never been back home in the 3 years since she went to college, but the general vibe of the hillbilly like country folk certainly doesn't seem homey. That won't stop them from having fun on the water though. Not until they find out that the lake is shark infested...

The script for "Shark Night" is ridiculously silly. Coming off as a "Jaws" knock off that might have fit better for release in the late 70s/early 80s (even the opening sequence is an obvious "Jaws" moment), this man versus beast flick would have made a much better straight to DVD selection than one that hit theaters. It has atrociously cliche characters, worse dialogue, and a plot progression that rarely makes sense let alone inspires its audience to give into its ridiculous concept.

Granted, one has to admit that Ellis makes use of its horrible script and pushes it to some ridiculous extremes. Although the kill sequences aren't all that unique (here's a clue: people get eaten by sharks!), he does try to make it more interesting than normal by throwing out some outrageous moments. Sharks that leap from the water to devour people, hillbillies with sharpened teeth (?!), and of course plenty of laugh inducing character back stories to go along with the dumbest "twist" of why the sharks are there as possible. If you are looking for some great unintentional laughs than "Shark Night" is full of those.

If you know that this film is from David R Ellis and its about college kids fighting off some hillbilly raised sharks than you should have enough sense not to take it seriously. Doesn't stop the film from being completely idiotic at moments with its gimmicks and poor progressions, but take it with a laugh and you might have fun with it. Otherwise, skip it. Not worth the money.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011) - 3/5

Its something of a quirk that the original made for TV film "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" was as good as it was and earned its cult horror merit after time. What makes it even more quirky is that Guillermo Del Toro would find such an influence from it as a child and that it would affect him enough to pursue remaking the damn thing and releasing it as a mainstream horror film in the US. For those familiar with the atmospheric original one, the remake is a bit of a let down despite some very interesting stylistic changes. It certainly does build some solid scares with great sets and artistic choices, but its rather week script and odd cast don't do it any favors.

Sally (Madison) has just been sent to live with her father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes) as they renovate a massive ancient house. Although the tensions run high as Sally dislikes the new girlfriend and her father is much too busy with work, she soon discovers a buried hidden room of the house. There she unwittingly unleashes an ancient mob of small creatures whom at first seem harmless, but begin to show their true motives towards Sally.

The positives of "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" first: this is a beautiful film. It's got Del Toro written all over it as a producer with its amazing settings (including the massively beautiful and creepy house and the amazing garden) and its high production values. Even first time mainstream film director Nixey throws in enough charm with some great shots and use of small movements to build tension and fear. The special effects are top notch with the monstrous little creatures that scuttle around and earn some pretty legit scares being a high light of the film.

The problems that arise from "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" mostly concern its script and how it works. It rushes through the character development to work on plot progression and it leaves us unconnected with our heroine and her guardians which in turn makes us uninterested in how things turn out. The film also fails to pace properly as it rushes through the opening and then stutters in its cliche "no one believes me until things start to go real ugly" before kicking forward to an intense climax.

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" just happens to be a mixed bag of tricks. It's beautiful to look at, its modernized well in changing the lead character to a child, and its got some awesome scare moments. It also happens to feel completely detached from its audience and Nixey seems inept at getting actors to do their thing (Pearce looks like he's in autopilot - which considering how good he is can be a massive disappointment). Fans of the original should certainly take a gander at how such a simple story can be fleshed out in modern times, but beyond that its more or less just a hit or miss horror film.

BONUS RANT: This film is rated 'R' for violence and terror. It has some moments where it certainly pushes the limits (the tooth chisel in the opening sequence or the rope on the leg at the end), but...really? I've seen movies with PG-13 that are far scarier and more violent and most of the scenes in here are brief. Guess that's why I don't rate movies.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bloodstone: Subspecies II (1993) - 2.5/5

"Subspecies II" was part of an experiment Full Moon Entertainment conducted in which they made back-to-back sequels to their most successful franchises ("Subspecies", "Puppet Master" and "Trancers") and I've stated in other reviews that I DESPISE when production companies take this route. However I do have to hand it to Full Moon as they did craft some pretty entertaining sequels with this process (sans "Trancers 4" & "5") that actually puts high budget studios to shame that also practice this back-to-back sequel making technique (cough, cough "Matrix" and "Pirates of the Caribbean"). "Subspecies II" not only ends up being one of Full Moon's better sequels, but it actually matches the original with its low budget vampire sucking goodness.

Picking up right after the first film ended, we open with our ghoulish vampire Radu (Anders Hove returning) being resurrected by our pointless mini demons known as the subspecies (that somehow serve as the title of the series). Radu begins with killing his metrosexual brother in whilst sleeping (which means they couldn't get the actor back so they conveniently kill him off). Before he can kill the newly transformed Michelle, the sun rises so she awakes, steals the 'bloodstone' (which looks completely different) so know he must chase our virginal vampire down with the aid of his mummified hag mother.

This sequel outdoes it's guilty pleasure predecessor in the plot department as the pacing is much quicker. This surprised the shit out of me considering this was shot congruently with "Subspecies III" and with a single plot line expanding two films I expected far more padding. One aspect that the film fairs worse in is the dialogue department as it is far more hokey and silly. Director Ted Nicolaou does have a keen eye for style as the film has a nice polished look about it despite being made for the direct-to-video department. Nicolaou's use of shadows are also admirable and makes the film captivating from a technical standpoint.

The main problem for me is the main character of Michelle as she is far more wishy-washy. Her character in the first film (played by Laura Tate) was a strong, determined women. Here the character is just a needy, emotional mess that spends most of the film sobbing and crying. Her character also ends up being reactionary protagonist as she does nothing to move the plot along herself, only reacting to actions on the screen created by the antagonist character of Radu. Seriously Radu ends up being more of a main character than our 'heroin', if she would qualify as that.

The continuity as expected is complete bullcrap. Not only is our character of Michelle act completely different, she now has LONG hair even though the film takes place within mere moments of the original. The bloodstone itself has also gotten a complete makeover, though it does look far more lavish than the cracker jack toy of the original film. Seriously there's enough continuity errors here to make one's head explode.

A plethora of new characters are added into the "Subspecies" universe (perhaps 'universe' is too grandiose a term to describe such a silly low budget franchise) including but not limited to a our 'heroines' professor (where was he in the first film?), her sister (played by William Shatner's daughter... the horror!) and her preverbal love interest Kevin Spirtas, who looks like he just walked off the set of a soap opera. The new character that takes the blood pie is Mummy, Radu's hideous mother. Yes this character is a wee silly but her dysfunctional relationship with her son does provide for a few unintentional laughs.

Despite its obvious low budget short comings, "Subspecies II", compared to the original, is one of the more stronger sequels I've seen as it matches the original. Though it may be weaker in some angles (dialogue), director Ted Nicolaou makes up for it in other aspects (pacing). Overall this is a very satisfying sequel and one of the overall strongest films that the Full Moon factory pumped out in its early heyday. Can they keep it up in "Bloodlust: Subspecies III"? Well it's the second of back-to-back sequels so I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cold Fish (2010) - 3.5/5

Coming off with some fairly consistent critical claim and getting a fairly good release through Bloody Disgusting Selects, "Cold Fish" worked its way to the top of my queue with its quirky plot and friend recommendations. Although I'm not quite on board praising it as one of the best horror films released last year in the US, the film did impress with its often disturbing premise that blends arthouse drama with cult like horror.

A father and his family, including his daughter from a previous marriage and his new wife, have come upon troubled times. His new marriage is rocky as he runs his small tropical fish store and his daughter hates him in continuous rebellions. When they meet another exotic fish shop owner who offers the father to become a partner and takes the wayward daughter as one of his main store workers, things are starting to look up. Yet this new "business" partner seems a little aggressive and our familial man will have to make a few decisions on what's best for his family...and their lives.

Director Sion Sono knows how to push boundaries. He has been a relevant artistic force in Japan for years with both his poetry and his films. This is what makes "Cold Fish" a mixed bag when it comes to pushing boundaries. The interesting blend of dark dramatic tension, character presence, and intense moments of horror is done with an artist's finesse who finely paints this portrait of failed societal roles and bastardized ideologies of freedom. Unfortunately, throughout its overly long run time the comparisons to "Audition" and its similar themes ran rampant and "Cold Fish" with its almost cartoonish extremes didn't quite grab the way it tried to.

Despite my disappointment towards the general feeling and concept of the film, it is expertly put together. The stunningly good cast (including an above and beyond creepy/intense performance from the antagonist to rival the subtlety of the protagonist) holds their own as the warped tale wraps around artistic licenses signed off by Sion Sono. The bold color choices, the intriguing dialogue, and the performances own this film. Each scene is a fantastic watch even if the overall film seems to be oddly choppy, cartoonish, and over long.

"Cold Fish" impresses with its high quality of execution, but the constant comparisons in themes and style to the superior "Audition" ruins the overall film. It's massively depressing as it beats you in the face with its horrible situations and hopeless drowning moments for the characters and in this way its a success. Just not as much of a success as hoped.

Written By Matt Reifschneider