Thursday, October 31, 2013

Film Review: Trick R' Treat (2007)

Trick R' Treat (Review)
United States/2007
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...my love for this film is immeasurable..."

Trick R' Treat is a Halloween-themed anthology. Featuring four tales of terror, each story interconnects through the ominous presence of Sam -- a tiny trick-or-treater with orange footsie pajamas and a sack over his head.

Trick R' Treat is a horror anthology with four different stories, but lacks a frame story. However, this isn't a problem as every story brilliantly interconnects and the flow is never broken. In fact, each story is told concurrently with a few time skips -- but, it never loses its audience. Now, the content of these tales are best kept secret as they feature some great surprises. You should expect everything associated with Halloween crammed into this short anthology, and the birth of a horror icon, as well. The final act of the film is a fitting closure, definitely a memorable ending with great suspense and humor.

Trick R' Treat packs in so much content into its short runtime. The film balances its terror well, and counteracts it with some hilarious black humor. The horror relies on great suspense, a few jump-scares, slick gore effects, and the creatures of the night we grew up on. The humor is black, often being very chilling yet smirk-inducing. This is a film you'll want to watch twice thanks to the amazing blend of horror and comedy, as well as the great entertainment it delivers; however, you'll also want to watch it again to catch the brilliant foreshadowing as it is very effective, making for great "Ohhh" moments.

The acting is great from the entire cast; Brian Cox is always welcome, and he delivers a great performance. The music is perfect for the setting, capturing the mood and atmosphere of Halloween. The film is shot nicely, the set design is great. The special effects are also very interesting and well done; the practical gore effects are great, and the animatronics work very well -- fortunately, this film relies more on practical effects than computer. Michael Dougherty writing and direction skills are at their best, crafting a classic Halloween story through effective direction and smooth, creative storytelling.

Overall, Trick R' Treat is a horror masterpiece, and my Halloween tradition -- I can't go a year without watching this. Don't be fooled by the short review, or at least shorter than usual, my love for this film is immeasurable and, if you haven't seen it, you should see it without spoiling it for yourself beforehand. You must watch this film, whether your a fan of horror or not.

This rounds up our 31 Days of Halloween marathon, check back in tomorrow for a full recap! What a great way to end the month, don't you think?

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, brief nudity.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Film Review: Shirome (2010)

Shirome: Spirit of the Underworld (Review)
Japan/2010
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...fans of Japanese horror and culture will appreciate and enjoy the most."

Director Kôji Shiraishi wants to shoot a TV special starring up-and-coming Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover. Shiraishi wants to take the six members to investigate a haunted school where a deity by the name of Shirome resides....

Shirome: Spirit of the Underworld (or White Eyes) is a mockumentary -- a found-footage horror film -- following Momoiro Clover as they prepare to visit and actually enter the haunted school. Shirome is based on a Japanese urban legend, which I am a fan of, which tells of a deity with white eyes in an abandoned school who will grant your wish... but, if your wish isn't sincere, Shirome will drag you to hell. I like the story, it's simple and straight to the point. It's a bit uneventful, but it has a handful of creepy moments. The ending of the film is good, but not very effective or impacting.

Shirome mostly relies on its creepy moments, like hearing footsteps as you sleep, malfunctioning equipment, and spooky stories. There are a few jump-scares, but it really relies on its creepiness and suspense more than anything else. Fortunately, Shirome has a very short and forgiving runtime so it doesn't feel repetitive or long-winded. There are some creepy visuals, but I can already tell most big-budget horror fans won't enjoy them much -- they're often very subtle and low-budget. It stays consistent throughout, which makes the film tolerable. Ultimately, it may send a chill down your spine or creep you out a bit, but it never becomes truly frightening -- it never really becomes a very effective horror film.

I liked the girls in Momoiro Clover -- they captured enthusiasm, happiness, and even fear very well. However, the moments when they cry, and they cry occasionally, are over-the-top, almost obnoxious. Otherwise, the acting was better than expecting. There is some music, not very unique or memorable, but it is ominous and creepy. The visual effects aren't spectacular, but fans of low-budget Japanese horror will feel right at home. I like the concept, and the "sell your soul to the Devil for fame" theme, and the writing is very simple and easy-to-follow. Kôji Shiraishi plays his character well, and also directs the film well.

Overall, Shirome: Spirit of the Underworld , or White Eyes, is a good Japanese horror film. Ultimately, I think this is a horror film fans of Japanese horror and culture will appreciate and enjoy the most. Maybe you should take this review with a pinch of salt because the film features three of my favorite things: Japanese horror, Urban Legends, and Japanese Girls.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Film Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (Review)
United States/1982
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a fantastic horror film for fans from across the spectrum."

As a family settles into their new home in Cuesta Verde, they become targets of malicious ghosts, that eventually abduct the family's youngest...

Poltergeist continues with the family, mostly the father (Craig T. Nelson) and mother (JoBeth Williams), attempting to save their daughter, who can only communicate through the television after being dragged into her closet and becoming one with the home. Of course, they'll need the help of paranormal experts, who don't seem to be as cheesy as I expected and actually add much to the film. The haunting continues -- well, it's actually a poltergeist, but you get the gist of it -- until the family eventually finds a way to bring her back from the other side. It all leads to an epic, and easily memorable, finale.

Poltergeist is a scary, funny, and fun horror film. Poltergeist delivers a very interesting haunting, with a family you actually like to spend time with -- a believable family, a family you can connect to. This makes the poltergeist fun and exciting in a way. Yet, the film manages to conjures many scares with its great suspense, unique visuals, and stylish direction; it's a film that gets progressively scarier, as the ghost become more and more malevolent, and begin to make their intentions clear. There are many memorable scenes in this film because they are unique and well-executed -- from the clown doll sequence to the vicious face-tearing, it's all still stitched into my mind. This blend of genuine, light-hearted humor and terrifying visuals make this a fun and exciting experience.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams share great chemistry, and the child cast deliver believable performances. The music and cinematography have Spielberg written all over it; his style really captures the mystical and fascinating feelings you love in film, it just keeps you hooked, almost in awe without being necessarily epic. (Spielberg didn't compose the music, but he seems to have a distinct style in the films he produces.) Tobe Hooper's direction is great, capturing every heartfelt moment and scare with great precision. Most of the special effects still hold to this day, but some will clearly feel out of place. (the storm/tornado sequence.)

Overall, Poltergeist is a fantastic horror film for fans from across the spectrum -- save for one or two scenes, I'd even argue this film is great for the whole family. Poltergeist is easily memorable, because it's so good and unique, especially for its time, and even now.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Film Review: Maniac (2012)

Maniac (Review)
France/United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...graphic and cringe-worthy..."

Frank Zito (Elijah Wood) is a disturbed young man -- haunted by the memories of his now-deceased prostitute mother -- running a mannequin restoration business. Between his serial killing, Frank runs into Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a young photographer interested in mannequins, and he agrees to help her with her upcoming exhibition.

Maniac is a vicious remake of an 80s slasher of the same name and premise. The story continues to follow Frank as he tries to develop a relationship with Anna. But, his lust for blood and acceptance has him using his free time to stalk and scalp his helpless victims. Basically, the story follows a simple yet captivating formula: at night, Frank stalks and kills; during the day, Frank tries to spend time with Anna. On top of that, Frank suffers from "migraines," or better, some uncomfortable hallucinations. The ending is devastating; however, it did feel like it didn't know when to stop, it kinda went on and on.

Maniac uses a unique perspective to bring us into the shoes of Frank Zito; in fact, most of the time, we quite literally see what he sees as it is shot in his perspective. I really enjoyed this style as it brought us into Frank's mind, and complimented his psyhcological issues, as well. The horror consists of a creepy antagonist, brutal and disturbing violence, and great suspense. First, Frank Zito is a fantastic antihero, someone you can connect to but hate at the same time; Elijah Wood performs well, delivering creepy dialogue in a chilling tone. The violence is graphic and cringe-worthy; brutal stabbings, bloody scalpings, disturbingly realistic asphyxiations, and so on. On top of all of this, there is plenty of suspense leading up to the inevitable kills.

Elijah Wood is superb as the lead; he perfectly embodies a mentally ill serial killer -- a genuinely creepy, unforgettable performance. Nora Arnezeder compliments his performance, capturing an ambitious artist and a real feeling of terror. My only complaint with the acting comes from some of the victims, they occasionally lacked the feeling of being petrified; some of their shouting felt forced and unnatural, but everything else was tolerable and enjoyable. The cinematography is great, the POV style is effectively used. The music is fantastic, it has a "Drive"-vibe, but much more ominous. Franck Khalfoun direction is great, I look forward to seeing more from him.

Overall, Maniac is a superb, impacting horror film; the graphic visuals of violence are unforgettable, the POV perspective and psyhcological aspects compliment each other well, and Elijah Wood is a brilliant creeper. This is one of the rare horror remakes that surpass the original. I highly recommend for those they can stand excessive violence.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Film Review: The Curse of Chucky (2013)

The Curse of Chucky (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"I hope to see more traditional horror films in the Child's Play series."

A mysterious package arrives at the home of Nica (Fiona Dourif), a paraplegic, and her mother, Sarah. The package, with no return address, contains Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), a killer doll responsible for dozens of murders. Oblivious to this fact, Sarah passes away in what is believed to be a suicide, and Nica is visited by her sister Barbie (Danielle Bisutti), and her family...

The Curse of Chucky continues with Chucky causing havoc in the home -- his ominous presence begins with simple movements, disappearing and reappearing, and so on. Starting small by blending rat poison into the dinner of an unlucky guest, Chucky eventually ups his game to full murder. The story shows some great self-control as it keeps Chucky quiet but creepy until the halfway mark -- but, those first words are oh so satisfying. Afterward, it's a pretty straightforward slasher film -- or, better yet, a respectable installment to the Child's Play series. There are a few twists, and the explanation clears up most of the potential holes, as well. This is film feels like it has multiple ending, and they're all great; it features two sweet surprises for fans of the series, make sure you stick around for the after credits scene -- it lacks some delivery, but it's great.

The Curse of Chucky brings the series back to its horror roots. Fortunately, the killer doll genre isn't over-saturated, so this installment is refreshing. This movie builds great suspense, and, although many are fake-outs, The Curse of Chucky has a plethora of loud music jump scares. If you're looking for something other than suspense and jump scares, you're in luck: this film film has great slasher elements. The violence, particularly the special effects, have an old-school style, and there are some very creative kills. The story does feel like it loses some momentum towards the end, though. And, there's this whole love-affair subplot that came off as cheesy and unnecessary. Barbie's character was also annoying. Nica was good, but her dialogue becomes a bunch of one-liners during the final act -- not the good punchlines Chucky delivers, she just had a few cheesy one-liners.

The acting was good from most of the cast. Fiona Dourif is good for the first two acts, but I really didn't enjoy her during the third -- it felt overdone and forced. Danielle Bisutti captures her annoying character well, despite being a walking cliché. Brad Dourif is great, his dialogue is great and his sinister laugh is still amazing. Some of the supporting actors were weak, like the after-credits actor and the police officer, but the main cast was solid. The music had a mystical, enchanting vibe, blended with an ominous tone. The film is shot nicely, although it occasionally was a bit too dark. I liked the animatronics for the Chucky doll, as well, I'm glad they didn't go all computer.

Overall, The Curse of Chucky, although not without its flaws, is a great installment in the Child's Play series. It has plenty of scares, some great punchlines without being heavy handed, and Chucky is as sinister as ever. In my opinion, this is the right direction, I hope to see more traditional horror films in the Child's Play series -- another sequel or a reboot, just stick to horror.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence, blood, and gore, and excessive language. (unrated version)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Film Review: The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...this is one of the best horror films in a long time."

In 1971, the Perron family moves into a timeworn farmhouse. As odd events begin occurring at the home, and as they become more and more physical, Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) recruits renowned paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) to help stop the paranormal attack.

The Conjuring continues with Ed and Lorraine helping the Perron family. Off the bat, they feel the paranormal presence and recognize the many signs, so Ed and Lorraine begin to capture evidence for the church. The strong demonic presence makes itself known with ferocious attacks and spooky appearances. The story really starts off as a traditional haunted house horror thriller, then slowly blends a strong possession element similar to that in The Exorcist; it's such a great blend that keeps the audience hooked, terrified, and interested from beginning to end. And, what a memorable ending it is: the ending is shockingly effective and tense, and it even gives paranormal fans a hint at the future of this potential series.

The Conjuring is a very consistent horror film with very effective horror elements. The story may have been done before, but the horror is so genuine and well-made that it makes it forgivable. This isn't a jump-scare gallery like Insidious, rather it's a dreadful and suspenseful horror film. The atmosphere alone is fills the room with dread. The suspense keeps you at the edge of your seat, it keeps you holding your breath; really, I love the strong suspense element, it differentiates the film from being just another jump-scare marathon. The jump-scares are unique and surprising, and conservatively spread throughout the film. There are plenty of spooky visuals, including a creepy doll and haunting demons that can shock you when they appear. The possession elements are believable, chilling, and effective, matching those of The Exorcist. And, all of these elements compliment each other well, and are persistent throughout. This is a genuinely petrifying film that blends a dramatic story with pure terror.

The acting is great from the entire cast. I'm a fan of Patrick Wilson, and I'm glad he turns in a great, believable performance. I think Lili Taylor really stood out the most, though, with a very genuine performance. James Wan's direction is perfect, masterfully crafting every scare and conjuring unbearable suspense -- he is a master of suspense. The cinematography is dark and gritty, and the camerawork is engaging and creative. The music is chilling, really a spine-tingling soundtrack. The writing is balanced well, focusing on character and story, and implementing the right balance and blend of terror.

Overall, The Conjuring is a terrifying film with superb direction, great acting, and a plethora of scares -- from the jolting jump-scares to it everlasting creepy visuals and suspense. It's a very effective horror film that stays with you long after your first viewing, but entices you into another. The blend of haunted house and possession is creative and effective, the possession elements feel thought-out and well developed, unlike films such as The Rite. Hands down, this is one of the best horror films in a long time.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Film Review: Urban Legend (1998)

Urban Legend (Review)
United States/1998
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...the ending of the film is one of the most disappointing... I've ever seen."


After a fellow student is killed near a gas station, a group of students become targets to a serial killer who uses urban legends to kill his victims. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt), a student, fears for her life as the people around her share similar deaths...

Urban Legend is a 90s slasher, which continues with the same premise. A friend of Natalie dies in a manner similar to an urban legend, and they continue to be picked off one by one; each suffering from a unique death and directly relating to Natalie. But, who's the killer and why? I love the premise of the film since I love urban legends, and the execution is mostly great, as well. Every urban legend kill is executed with great suspense and the chills you'd expect from these classic stories. It's basically a traditional slasher with reenactments of urban legends for kills, and it stays consistent for the first two acts, and even during the final act for a bit.

However, the ending of the film is one of the most disappointing, most cliché-filled, shittiest endings I've ever seen. (I really don't curse much in my reviews, so you know I mean it.) Every bit of originality this film had is killed off when the killer is revealed, and said killer suffers from a ridiculously over-the-top performance you've seen a million times -- really, there isn't a pinch of originality in this person's performance, it's laughable. Add in a handful of plot contrivances, and some cheesy, cheesy dialogue, and you've got yourself this terribly disappointing ending.

Now, aside from the bad ending, Urban Legend doesn't really give you much to root for. Every character in this film is horrid, filled with easily dislikable characteristics. (i.e. They're douchebags.) And, you really don't get to spend time with each individual, so their deaths lack impact and significance. The final act itself feels like it ditched the urban legend concept and focuses more on Natalie's bipolar paranoia (cause she doesn't trust anyone and goes around overreacting.) At least most of it is tolerable, and the kills are satisfying in a slasher sort of way -- great suspense, unique execution, and some solid jump-scares.

Alicia Witt is mostly tolerable throughout the film, despite some of her dialogue feeling forced and unnatural, but her character is annoying to spend time with anyway. Rebecca Gayheart also delivers a weak performance throughout without much energy; and when she does energize, she disappoints. Robert Englund was good, though, but underutilized. Other than the performances, it's a straightforward horror film -- not exceptional, but well-made on the technical side.

Overall, Urban Legend is a fascinating concept with great execution... until it reaches its very, very disappointing ending. If you can excuse the b-acting and annoying characters (most of them die, anyway), you'll find much to enjoy in the first two acts of the film; you'll be tested when it falls apart during the third act, though, as the film loses its identity.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some sex.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Film Review: The Thing (2011)

The Thing (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a mediocre horror film, but a decent action film."

An alien spacecraft and specimen is discovered in Antarctica by a Norwegian research team. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to safely recover the specimen, but the specimen itself breaks free and escapes...

The Thing is a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film of the same name. The team arrives, extracts the specimen, and the ego-stricken leader decides to retrieve a sample without the proper precautions. Eventually, the specimen escapes and is destroyed, only to find out it has and can replicate a human body. The hunt for the alien continues through questioning and tests used to reveal the hidden alien. The story moves at a brisk pace, and stays consistent throughout, but doesn't properly utilize it characters or concept. The film ends as expected -- weakly and predictably -- and features a solid during credits scenes to lead into Carpenter's adaptation.

The Thing really isn't a scary film. Instead of playing out like a suspenseful horror film, like the 1982 adaptation, The Thing plays more like an action thriller. It's more like the recent Resident Evil video games in both action elements and creature designs. On that note, The Thing opts for strong computer usage instead of practical effects; this further makes this film feel like an action video game than a horror film. There isn't much suspense, and the suspense it does build is light and poorly utilized. Instead, we get long, drawn-out scenes of silence that lead to a weak jump-scares. (silence and slow walking ≠ suspense) Also, it's not very logical or smart; I mean, come on, a tooth filling test? It's clever, but filled with so many holes, and clearly an attempt to differentiate itself from Carpenter's The Thing -- if you're going to half-ass it, you might as well copy the film.

The acting is good from the entire cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is clearly supposed to be the lead, but she never takes control of the role; however, she does play a generic, one-dimensional character, so she doesn't have much to work with. The film is beautifully shot; the special effects are great, despite being overused, and occasionally feeling ill-fitted. The soundtrack is often ominous, often epic -- really fits the setting. The storytelling is smooth, the story, on the other hand, is filled with clichés -- from its scares and plot to its characters and character arcs. You've seen these film before, and not because it's a reboot (because it's a prequel), but because it borrows so much from other horror films.

Overall, The Thing is a mediocre horror film, but a decent action film. It will kill a night thanks to some great set pieces and its fast pace, but the story just never grabs you, neither will its attempts at horror. In my opinion, its biggest offense is its lack of suspense and dread.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

The Shining (Review)
United States/United Kingdom/1980
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a fantastic horror film with many, many layers."

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) accepts a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel -- a secluded hotel that becomes snowed in during the winter. Although he aims to spark his writing career through solitude, his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), join him in the Overlook Hotel. But, everything is not what it seems...

The Shining continue to follow Jack as he rapidly loses a grip on his sanity -- he has unbelievable visions, delusions and hallucinations that spark violent reactions; the more time he spends in the hotel, the more his psyche breaks down. At the same time, his psychic son has visions of the past and the future using his special ability to "shine". Meanwhile, Wendy passively observes as her husband snaps and her child suffers from his own powers. The film enters a suspenseful final act as chaos completely erupts and leads to a bone-chilling ending.

The Shining is much more than the traditional horror film. The Shining focuses on its atmosphere and visuals much more than graphic violence or jump-scares. It's a slow-burning creeper, as it masterfully builds up tension and delivers eerie scene after eerie scene. These creepy visuals are brilliantly designed to stay with you long after you view the film -- they are unforgettable. Aside from being downright creepy and accomplishing adequate foreshadowing, the visuals are also drenched in symbolism -- symbolism that is open for interpretation, symbolism that makes you question if something was done deliberately or mistakenly. Regardless, it's a elegant conversational piece of work, whether you're discussing the horror or symbolism. The 2 hour 20 minute runtime really didn't feel bloated, it felt just right thanks to the always engaging visuals and camerawork.

Jack Nicholson is superb from beginning to end; starting as a frustrated yet hopeful character to a frustrated and eccentric character. I enjoyed Shelley Duvall's performance, i think she captures the passive character well, despite overacting a bit during the final act. The soundtrack is very effective and blends well with the subject matter -- it's a haunting musical score that is scary on its own. Stanley Kubrick's direction is phenomenal; he pulls so much from the cast and plot, while implementing wonderfully engaging camerawork and beautiful cinematography to further immerse the audience.

Overall, The Shining is a fantastic horror film with many, many layers. On the surface, you have a masterfully crafted psychological horror film with beautifully terrifying visuals, great suspense, and a haunting ending; looking deeper, and thanks to fan participation, you have a timeless piece of art filled with open-for-interpretation symbolism. A must-watch for all film fans.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, full nudity.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Film Review: The Serpent and The Rainbow (1988)

The Serpent and The Rainbow (Review)
United States/1988
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...this is the Wes Craven I enjoy!" 

Dennis Alan, an anthropologist, is sent to Haiti to investigate a drug supposedly used to being people back to life. Instead, Dennis finds himself in a living nightmare, where the dead might just be walking the Earth...

Dennis continues his investigation, along with Dr. Marielle, who originally reported and confirmed the "zombie" appearance. Together, the pair face resistance from the secret police, and Dennis faces disturbing visions and nightmares. The story continues with the research and conjuring of the lucrative "zombie" powder, along with more resistance and conspiracy from the local government. I like the stories focus on the different possibilities, even though when they aren't fully developed, and I like the villains in the film, as well. The final act brings the nightmare to life with disturbing visuals and a great ending. The storytelling is often sloppy, where it feels rushed and disconnected; the narration helps, but it doesn't fix the inconsistencies.

The Serpent and The Rainbow is a straight-forward horror film; it's not a zombie horror film like Dawn of the Dead, it's more like a witch doctor horror film. The story used some suspense, disturbing nightmares and visuals, and a few jump-scares. The suspense is occasionally effective, but the jump-scares weren't impressive. The disturbing visuals were my favorite horror aspect of the film; I liked the visuals at the end, especially, like the unnaturally long arms reaching for Dennis and an insane decapitation. The film strives more on its interesting investigation and creepy concept than the traditional horror elements; in other words, it's not the scariest film out there.

The acting is good. The entire cast deliver authentic performances, and its all competent and enjoyable. The special effects are superb, especially towards the end; the film scatters some spectacular old-school effects throughout, though, so it's balanced well enough. Wes Craven's direction is great; although it does have a few inconsistencies, Craven pulls as much out of the cast and screenplay as possible. The cinematography is good, but it's not shot to stand the test of time; the environment is captured competently, though, and it helps build the atmosphere. The music matches the environment and helps create some suspense.

Overall, The Serpent and The Rainbow is a great horror film. I enjoy the story, and its great investigation and eerie visuals, and the film is technically solid. I love the reality vs fantasy in this film, especially the nightmare sequences; this is the Wes Craven I enjoy! I recommend for fans of the genre, especially the old-school.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some nudity and sex.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Film Review: The Rite (2011)

The Rite (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...makes two hours feel like three due to the uneventful story and dreadfully slow pace."

Dissatisfied with his job as a mortician, Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) enters a seminary school to possibly become a priest. However, Michael is at a point of disbelief and confusion, and at the brink of resignation, so he is sent to Rome to study exorcisms. In Rome, Michael meets Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an exorcist with unorthodox methods...

The Rite continues as Michael searches for proof of the Devil's existence -- he is a doubter searching for absolute certainty. Along the way, he'll work with Father Lucas on an exorcism, which should convince him otherwise, but does not; Michael continues to question his beliefs, even after witnessing the unexplainable. After a devastating failure, Father Lucas, an occasional doubter, is possessed by the demon trying to contact Michael. And, in order to save Father Lucas, Michael must achieve absolute certainty. For an almost two hour film, there isn't much going on as the film feels hollow and very bloated until it reaches its predictable, unsatisfying ending.

The Rite is a very bland and boring possession film. It's not exactly a horror film because it's not scary; it's not a thriller because it lacks thrills; and, it's not a drama because, well, it's not very dramatic. This bland picture suffers from it's attempts at differentiating itself; it takes jabs at The Exorcist, but has you wishing it would be more of the same. On top of an uneventful and ineffective story, The Rite is filled with done-to-death clichés and laughable dialogue; the smart-ass protagonist trying to outsmart his professor to impress a girl, the sudden change of beliefs, etc.; dialogue like "She wants me to say hello. HELL-O!" I mean, really, most of the presentation is laughable. And, I understand fate is a theme of the film, but some of these plot contrivances are downright silly. The Rite makes two hours feel like three due to the uneventful story and dreadfully slow pace, and an easily forgettable three hours at that.

Colin O'Donoghue is a cardboard lead with little emotion and no charisma; he's as bland as the story, and that doesn't help at all. Anthony Hopkins is great for the bulk of his screen time; unfortunately, his performance takes a turn for the during the finale, but the writing shares more of the blame. Technically speaking, this film doesn't excel in any way and doesn't differentiate itself. The cinematography is often too dark, and the music is forgettable, and there seems to be a lack of direction from Mikael Håfström.

Overall, The Rite is a bore, a film that lacks identity despite trying to differentiate itself. It's uneventful, cliché, bloated, and, did I mention, boring. Anthony Hopkins offers some redeeming qualities to the film, but the lead overshadows him with his bland performance, anyway. I don't recommend The Rite, watch The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose -- hell, watch The Possession in Japan, instead.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Film Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Return of the Living Dead (Review)
United States/1985
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"This isn't a film that takes itself seriously, yet it's a serious contender for the best zombie film of all time."

Frank and Freddy, two employees at a medical supply warehouse, accidentally unleash a toxic gas that reanimated dead bodies. The company employees try to contain the situation themselves but end up unleashing the dead to the unsuspecting town.

The Return of the Living Dead is a black comedy/horror zombie film. Along with the employees, we also see a group of young punkers, who were waiting for their friend to get off work in a nearby cemetery. When the dead wake, their paths cross and they must fight the zombies together; they'll build up their defenses, and use anything they can get their hands on as weapons; they'll even communicate with the zombies! It's a very straight-forward story, yet it's very effective and creative -- especially for its time. The very well balanced story continues with great momentum to a fantastic ending; an ending that feels satisfactory, despite simultaneous feelings of it being rushed.

I really enjoyed the story in The Return of the Living Dead. It's fun without being absurd, and it's scary without being too dark. The comedy is very effective and often subtle -- it blends very well with the rest of the film and delivers consistent laughs. The scares consists of mostly jump-scares and some great gore effects, along with a some tension. In this case, the comedy and horror blend well to create a very entertaining and creative experience; an experience that can be enjoyed by a wide audience. The Return of the Living Dead, and its superb blend of comedy, horror, and zombies, is very refreshing -- even today in an oversaturated genre.

The cast is all-around great, well above my expectations; in fact, I'd say it's impressive to see such great performances in an 80s horror film. The music also fits this eccentric film perfectly, playing the right song at the right time for a great time. The gore effects are superb; this film introduces the "zombies eat brains" concept, and there are plenty of brains. Dan O'Bannon has fantastic direction and writing skills, creating a great story with plenty of wit. Technically speaking, The Return of the Living Dead is exceptional in almost every way.

Overall, The Return of the Living Dead is a good time -- a zombie film with a lot of heart and creativity. This isn't a film that takes itself seriously, yet it's a serious contender for the best zombie film of all time.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, full nudity.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Film Review: Paranormal Activity 4 [Unrated] (2012)

Paranormal Activity 4: Unrated (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"The story alone feels forgettable and uneventful, as well as ... a rushed cash-grab."

It's November 2011, Alex (Kathryn Newton) lives a seemingly normal life with her parents and little brother. Soon after arriving, a new neighbor falls ill and leaves her child, Robbie, with Alex and her family. Unfortunately for Alex, Robbie brings along an "imaginary" friend with a haunting presence.

Paranormal Activity 4 is a sequel to Paranormal Activity 2. The story is more of the same: the demon continues to haunt families that love recording their every waking moment. Some humor, a little bit of bickering, some furniture moves, long moments of silence, and so on. (This seems to be the most uneventful installment of the series by far as I'm drawing a blank after watching it about an hour ago.) The story continues into the cliché "hectic" ending, except this time it feels rushed and unfulfilling -- more so than usual.

This is a pretty straightforward found-footage horror film. It starts off with bits of comedy and family issues, and slowly the haunting becomes stronger and stronger -- but it never actually becomes an effective haunting or possession. There are a few good scenes, but most are dull, been-there-done-that scenes thay have been done better before. There are also a few spooky scenes, but not many. The ending feels out of place and rushed. There are jump-scares, but they barely work. And there is a disappointing lack of suspense and realism -- this doesn't feel like it could happen to you. Like I said, it is very uneventful and easily forgettable.

Kathryn Newton delivers a good performance -- a very believable teenage girl without being annoying or unlikable. In fact, I thought the acting was very genuine. Well, I always felt Katie Featherston delivered weak, inauthentic performances -- and that's not including her possession, "drone" walking. Paranormal Activity 4 uses the same tired found-footage formula -- this film doesn't try to innovate, and when it does, it fails to use its concepts efficiently. As far as writing, this is more of the same, using every cliche possible and making this feel like a real cash grab.

Overall, Paranormal Activity 4 is a big disappointment lacking suspense, scares, and realism. The story alone feels forgettable and uneventful, as well as feeling like a rushed cash-grab. I watched the unrated version of the film (the rated and unrated versions are now available on Netflix Streaming), and I really font know what they'd have to cut for an R-rating -- a few scenes make it feel like a strong PG-13 tops. I'd avoid paying directly, and recommend streaming through a subscription service.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Film Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

My Bloody Valentine (Review)
United States/Canada/1981
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...you must watch the uncut version if you really want to see the gore."

The small town of Valentine Bluffs is preparing for a Valentine's Day dance. But the legend of Harry Warden -- a miner that survived in a collapsed mine, which was cause by the negligent supervisors awaiting the Valentine's Day dance, by eating his coworkers -- has returned for more vengeance...

My Bloody Valentine is an 80s slasher. However, this film focuses a bit more on story than your typical Friday The 13th installment. We hear a lot about the legend -- playing out like an urban legend -- two days before Valentine's Day. During the days prior, a kill or two occur as Harry Warden warns of a massacre if the dance occurs on Valentine's Day. Of course, it still occurs as the oblivious young adults move it to the mine, despite warning. From there on, the slaughter commences, one by one. The final act takes place in the actual mine, which creates a nice cat-and-mouse vibe in a claustrophobic environment; I enjoyed the ending of the film.

Not all of My Bloody Valentine's story elements work for the better. There is a love triangle that doesn't really add much to the film, other than creating an annoying character; and, for once I'd love to see two women fight for one man in a good film. Other than that, most of the story revolved around Harry Warden, the town, and this young group. Stupid decisions are at a minimal level, which is good. There is plenty of tension, especially during the final act, along with some solid jump scares. The gore effects are amazing, some that will send chills down your spine. However, you must watch the uncut version if you really want to see the gore; unfortunately, the Amazon Prime stream is the censored/cut version of the film.

The acting is great. Again, I've been watching a lot of Friday The 13th, so it's refreshing to see such a competent cast on screen; it's not award-winning, but it's very good by slasher standards. The gore effects are great, delivering practical effects and shocks -- as long as you watch the uncut version. The writing is good, not completely original but competent; and, it creates a great urban legend, which I'm a sucker for. The film is shot to stand the test of time, particularly thanks to the forgiving lighting in the chilling mine scenes.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed My Bloody Valentine. It delivers the practical gore you'd expect from an 80s slasher, as well as a solid focus on story and a great cast. A few minor annoyances bring the film down a bit, but it's generally a great film. I strongly recommend the uncut version.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore. (the cut version of the film briefly shows the aftermath of the kill, while the uncut version is much more vivid and graphic)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Film Review: Ju-on 2 (2003)

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (Review)
Japan/2003
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...the sublime style really has your eyes scanning every frame for ghostly images you would otherwise miss."

The curse continues as a TV show begins filming at the haunted house in Nerima. The curse begins haunting Kyoko, an actress deemed "queen of horror," as well as the TV show's director, hair stylist, and an extra.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (or Ju-on 2) continues the curse with the same fragmented storytelling as the previous installments. Anyone that enters the haunted Nerima home suffers the same fate -- a disturbing haunting leading to an inevitable death. This plot is more of the same. The stories of the different characters interconnect, and you have to piece them together -- again, it is not told in chronological order. Basically, you see each character and their respective haunting, which are a bit more unique this time around; for example, one has a great foreshadowing, and another has a character stuck in a nightmarish loop. The story ends with another chilling finale.

Ju-on 2's story is somewhat difficult to follow, but you should be able to grasp most of it during your first viewing; this is a film that benefits from multiple viewing for multiple reasons. The scares consists of creepy visuals, disturbing sounds, and some great suspense; there are plenty of jump-scares, as well. There are some very creative scenes in this installment, which use effectively creepy foreshadowing. There is also a more evident use of computer effects during some scenes -- they work well, but they may be seen as cheesy for those expecting spectacular computer effects. I also like the strong use of subtle background visuals, which is another reason to watch the film again -- the sublime style really has your eyes scanning every frame for ghostly images you would otherwise miss.

The acting is great. The cast know how to deliver genuine emotions of fear through their voice tones and facial expressions. The ghosts are the same as the previous installment, and they are fortunately still creepy; they are used in more creative ways as well, although some don't look great. Takashi Shimizu's writing is still unnecessarily complicated, but his scares are well placed and balanced. Shimizu's direction is still very good as he pulls a lot from his cast, and develops great suspense for his scares -- his sublime style is also superb, as usual.

Overall, Ju-on 2 is a very good installment in the Ju-on series -- a creepy, haunting horror film with much to offer. It is, however, more of the same, which may drain some viewers, and does not fix the narrative problems of the previous installments; if you're a fan of this style of storytelling, you'll enjoy it, if you didn't like it the first time around, you'll despise it. Aside from these potential issues, and despite being genuinely scary, Ju-on 2 also lacks the impact of the first film.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Film Review: Ju-on The Grudge (2002)

Ju-on: The Grudge (Review)
Japan/2002
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...delivers creepy visuals, eerie sounds, and dreadful tension."

Ju-on: The Grudge tells the story of several characters related to a haunted house with each of their stories interconnecting. Beginning with Rika, a social worker sent to take care of an elderly woman, the haunting eventually spreads to other characters.

The basic premise of Ju-on: The Grudge revolves around the belief of a grudge -- that is, when someone dies in a fit of rage, a curse is born. Rika is sent to take care of a family that lives in a home where the Saeki family was brutally murdered before. She begins to experience the haunting, which, in turn, spreads to the others. Meanwhile, the short stories interconnect, with characters occasionally appearing in each other's story. This is not told in chronological order, by the way. The ending of the film is very effective, a chilling and haunting finale.

I probably did a poor job explaining the story, but it is complicated, so don't fault me too hard. However, if you really get into it, if you really pay attention, you should be able to grasp most of the story -- some details you'll have to receive during a second viewing. However, Ju-on: The Grudge delivers the scares, and they're actually very versatile scares. This nightmarish ghost story delivers creepy visuals, eerie sounds, and dreadful tension; the creepy visuals come from dead-pale ghosts, the eerie sounds come from Toshio's meowing and the horrible phone call croaking, while the tension comes from the subtle background movements. On that point, keep an eye on the full frame, look towards the background for some very creepy visuals you would otherwise miss.

The acting is all around great from the entire cast. Really, the cast deliver great, believable performances -- you can really see the fear in their eyes. The special effects and makeup are minimal yet very effective; Toshio and Kayako are incredibly creepy, and deliver iconic sounds and movements. The practical editing is used perfectly to setup some very effective scares. Takashi Shimizu's storytelling could use some polish as it can get confusing, and unnecessarily so. However, Takashi Shimizu's direction is fantastic as he deliberately places dread into every frame through superb screen direction and camera work.

Overall, Ju-on: The Grudge is a terrifying J-horror film -- it is unforgettable, it is iconic. However, despite being genuinely petrifying, the storytelling is obviously sloppy and flawed, and some of its innovating horror techniques may be seen as outdated today. Regardless, this is a real treat for horror fans, and definitely a must watch.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Film Review: The Innkeepers (2011)

The Innkeepers (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...the atmosphere is amazing as it masterfully uses its tone, music, and setting."

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are employees at a hotel that is about to close. During the final week of operation, the pair begin ghost hunting aggressively in hopes of capturing genuine proof of the ghost that haunts the Yankee Pedlar Inn -- Madeline O'Malley.

The story in The Innkeepers works well as a camp-fire ghost story, hauntingly revolving around the spooky hotel guest Madeline O'Malley. We see both characters are interested in ghost and want to capture paranormal evidence before the hotel closes. So, when they're not complaining about the guests or their unsuccessful lifes, they -- particularly she -- goes around the hotel trying to capture solid proof. Now, most of the time, these investigations lead to nothing as ghostly appearances -- visually or sonically -- occur far and few in between. But, these few appearances works as great payoffs for the often too slow pace and buildup. The ending of the film is great, and I enjoy the very subtle imagery at the end -- it left a lasting impression.

The story, however, really moves at a almost dreadful pace, and I can only imagine how those feel that don't enjoy horror movies already. Sometimes, the slow tension leads to nothing, or something unrewarding -- like a gag jump-scare. The dreadful tension works well for the scares with actual payoffs, whether it be a loud jump-scare, story progression, or creepy imagery, but not so much for the duds. If you're looking for a jump-scare gallery, you'll be disappointed, as this film relies heavily on its suspense and atmosphere. On that note, the atmosphere is amazing as it masterfully uses its tone, music, and setting.

The acting is great, especially from Sara Paxton. They capture the hipster, "who cares" attitude well, and are likable - there friendship, or complicated friendship, is also very believable, albeit cliché. The musical score really fits the haunted hotel setting, I enjoyed it. The special effects and makeup, although lightly used, are effective. Ti West continues to improve as writer, director, and editor for his films. Technically speaking, everything went smoothly.

Overall, The Innkeepers is great slow-burning haunted hotel story. The story of Madeline O'Malley is interesting, the setting is used wisely and creepily, the atmosphere is immersive and spooky, and the few jump-scares it effectively uses are really effectively used. Fans of slow-burner horror films will enjoy this film the most, and those are the same fans I highly recommend a purchase to. Everyone else, you should rent or stream before purchasing.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Film Review: Ghost Photos - The Cursed Images (2006)

Ghost Photos: The Cursed Images (Review)
Japan/2006
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"Fans of J-horror and slow-burners will get the most out of it..."

Amidst their parent's separation, Toshiko and her brother find an old camera in their late grandfather's room. Afterward, Toshi's brother sends her an ominous image of a dark forest, which begins to haunt her...

Ghost Photos: The Cursed Images, or simply Ghost Photos, is a slow-burn J-horror film. The story continues to follow Toshi as her mind is clouded by the mysterious image. She experiences some odd supernatural events, and begins to see a ghost in her everyday life. Eventually, she receives more photos on her cell phone that the senders don't remember taking -- each with a ghostly figure looming in the background. This short ghost tale leads to a sad yet satisfying ending -- it really tries to tie up all of its loose ends.

The story is very simple, but the subtitles are poorly translated -- you will really have to translate some of the English subtitles yourself -- which may make the story hard to follow. The horror consists of an ominous atmosphere and some spooky images and ghost scenes. There aren't many traditional jump-scares, and there isn't much suspense going on between set-pieces, though, which really makes this film feel more like a drama than a horror film. The ending is haunting, as expected from a good J-horror film, but the trip to the ending feels uneventful and bloated -- unfortunate, considering the already short runtime.

The acting was great from the cast, some of the dialogue delivery was robotic, but the lead was charismatic and smooth with her delivery. The storytelling is smooth, but the subtitles may be an issue -- I really liked the subtle foreshadowing. The music was ominous and spooky whenever it played. The ghost was well-designed, but underutilized.

Overall, Ghost Photos: The Cursed Images was an okay film. Fans of J-horror and slow-burners will get the most out of it, though. The biggest flaw is the lack of significant events, which made the short runtime feel longer than usual. It's really nothing special, but not terrible, either.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

The Fog (Review)
United States/1980
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"It's a classic, eerie campfire ghost story."

As the town begins to celebrate its 100th birthday, a mysterious, glowing fog sweeps over the town of Antonio Bay. Along with the fog arrives a group of vengeful ghosts of mariners who were killed 100 years prior.

The Fog follows Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a radio DJ tracking and experiencing the fog herself, as well as Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hitchhiker who gets caught in the town's situation. It begins with a creepy campfire ghost story, followed by a montage of supernatural events around the town -- furniture moving alone, car alarms set off synchronously, pay phones going off, etc. The fog creeps around its targets choking them in a claustrophobic and blinding fog until it finally decides to strike, seeking vengeance for their unjust deaths 100 years prior. Stevie, Elizabeth and company must avoid the supernatural fog, while attempting to stop it. The ending was heading south, but luckily it pushes forward for a pretty badass ending.

The Fog is an atmospheric and suspenseful horror film. It's a classic, eerie campfire ghost story. This is a well-rounded horror film blending everything one could every want. A film that oozes style with an immersive atmosphere. Suspenseful buildup before every kill, the fog itself working as a menacing tool for the ghosts. On that note, the ghosts are usually creepy silhouettes in the fog, and get even creepier as the film progresses. It's almost like a very effective supernatural slasher -- in fact, I'd say it is a fantastic supernatural slasher! And, it's very consistent from beginning to end.

The acting is all-around great. Adrienne Barbeau delivers a wonderful performance, really embodying a late-night DJ. Jamie Lee Curtis is also fantastic, but has limited screen time. However, there is a little lack of character, so there isn't much to work with when it comes to acting. The cinematography is also fantastic; although some scenes can be too dark, the lighting blends well with the heavy use of fog to create some elegantly eerie scenes. The soundtrack is also excellent in creating a spooky atmosphere -- one of my favorite horror soundtracks in general. John Carpenter gets credit for his great directing, slick writing, and superb soundtrack.

Overall, The Fog is a very creepy and effective horror film; it's spooky, scary, and very entertaining, and offers a fantastic cast and soundtrack, as well. There isn't much character, but that can be forgiven as it doesn't hurt the film much. I highly recommend this often overlooked chiller.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Film Review: Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake (Review)
United Kingdom/2008
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...it's pure tension and adrenaline injected straight into your veins."

School teacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and her boyfriend Steve (Michael Fassbender) decide to vacation in the countryside before it is converted into a corporate gated community. Their vacation is quickly disrupted when a group of teenage hoodlums decide to torment the young couple...

Eden Lake is an evil teenager horror thriller. The story continues with tensions rising on both sides as the innocent couple refuses to be bullied out of their vacation, and the teenagers refuse to care. A quick incident further pushes the night into a nightmare as Jenny and Steve are forced to fight for their lives. What continues are intense chases, suspenseful games of hide-and-seek, and gallons on top of gallons of blood. The film ends with a devastating yet thought-provoking finale -- it dares to enter the realm many films avoid.

This is a pure thriller from beginning to end. Every scene is crafted around it's heavy, tense atmosphere -- there isn't a moment where the film doesn't weigh you down with pure tension. The tension doesn't actually require violence; for example, the first confrontation between Steve and the teenagers is gripping and infuriating. And, on that point, there aren't many scenes of happiness in this film, I was infuriated at the teenagers the entire time. There are some solid jump-scares, and some graphic torture, as well; the deep wounds made me cringe, and sent chills through my body. There is even some thought-provocation in Eden Lake; the good old "nature vs. nurture" debate is always effective.

Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender are fantastic as the leads, they share great chemistry needed to create an authentic relationship and show great emotion when separated -- there are powerful leads that take control of their characters. The teenage cast does a fantastic job being annoying and frustrating -- exactly what they are meant to portray. The special effects are superb, the deep lacerations and other bloody effects are really cringe-worthy. The music is also very effective, especially during the final act and the ending. The cinematography captures everything perfectly in such a crowded forest environment, it's beautifully captured, as well.

Overall, Eden Lake is a very effective thriller -- it's pure tension and adrenaline injected straight into your veins. Don't expect much happiness as this film will tear you apart with an infuriating scene after another. Far from your typical Hollywood thriller, and, for that and it's other superb qualities, I can't recommend this film enough.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief full male nudity.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Film Review: Death of a Ghost Hunter (2007)

Death of a Ghost Hunter (Review)
United States/2007
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"Fans of paranormal horror films, especially slow-burners, will find much to enjoy in its horror elements..."

Ghost hunter Carter Simms (Patti Tindall) is hired to investigate a haunting in the Masterson house -- the home of a family murder/suicide. Carter is joined by cameraman Colin Green (Mike Marsh), journalist Yvette Sandoval (Davina Joy), and the very religious Mary Young Mortenson (Lindsay Page).

Death of a Ghost Hunter continues with interesting, and even frightening, paranormal investigation. The home is mostly dimly-lit as the group creeps through the spooky home hoping to disprove the haunting. They generically bicker amongst each other as the religious character is, as expected, overly religious. Eventually, they find proof and decide to continue. The final act of the film fumbles with stupid character choices and a very rushed feeling -- the atmosphere and slow-burn the film built-up is sacrificed for generic scares and an obvious plot twist. The ending of the film also drags on and on.

Death of a Ghost Hunter has a solid story, at least for its first two acts. The story is complimented by the eerie atmosphere it builds, as well as the insightful paranormal investigation. The film builds some great tension as well, which makes for some solid jump scares. In fact, there are at least 2 very effective jump-scares. Also, there are some chilling, subtle visuals that I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the final act discards most of this for a lazy, generic ending -- and, even more disappointing, an unfrightening ending.

The biggest offense within Death of a Ghost Hunter is its mediocre acting. Patti Tindall is good during most of her scenes -- but much of her dialogue is based on narration, and it is bland and lifeless, boring and almost sleep-inducing. Mike Marsh was also mostly good, but his permanence fumbles at the end with forced delivery. Davina Joy was the worst offender with most cringe-worthy dialogue and delivery -- occasionally tolerable, but mostly robotic and forced. Lindsay Page was okay, her character and writing were the bigger offense. In general, the characters and dialogue are poorly written; the atmosphere, tension, and scares are great, but the essential story elements suffer.

Overall, Death of a Ghost Hunter is an okay horror film. Fans of paranormal horror films, especially slow-burners, will find much to enjoy in its horror elements; the bad acting, the cliché writing, and the terrible ending, however, hurt the film significantly, especially for general audiences. I recommend streaming or renting for fans of the genre.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and nudity.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (Review)
United States/Italy/1978
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a very entertaining and brilliantly written horror film."

An unknown plague is causing the dead to reanimate, in turn, collapsing society. As the government and local authority lose control, four survivors escape the chaos and find refuge in an indoor shopping mall.

Dawn of the Dead continues to follow the four survivors; two staff members of a television studio, and two SWAT members. They find refuge in the mall, and decide to make it their home. Sweeping through the many stores for supplies and goods, and clearing out the few zombies that found their way in, the survivors eventually create a secure and comfortable home. They face issue after issue, and overcome them one way or another. In simple terms: Dawn of the Dead is a survival guide for a zombie apocalypse. The ending, despite being a bit cheesy, is effective and entertaining.

Dawn of the Dead is a horror film -- much more a horror film than its remake. The zombies move slowly, but have a strong presence; the slow moving zombies are very threatening, and create a real threat. This threat becomes more suspenseful when it's placed in claustrophobic environments, and when the odds are against the survivors. And, if one gets caught by a zombie, expect a devastating bite -- these guys don't just leave a mark, they pull chunks off of their prey. Dawn of the Dead also features some effective black comedy, and some subtle social commentary. The horror, the comedy, and the social commentary compliment each other well; they never overpower the horror elements, though, as this film is quite frightening.

The acting is great from the four survivors; each role is easily believable, despite having the "70s horror acting" vibe. The special effects and makeup are superb, the practical gore effects are very disturbing and effective yet interesting -- the kind of effects that make you say "wow, that's cool," despite being a grizzly subject; gore fans will be pleased to see more of Tom Savini's masterful work. The music is also well fitted, and well placed. George A. Romero's direction and writing is brilliant; everything comes together perfectly, and the story is incredible in so many ways; the story itself speaks a lot about politics and society, and really opens up your imagination, all while being terrifying and entertaining.

Overall, Dawn of the Dead is a very entertaining and brilliantly written horror film. A horror film that is actually scary, a gorefest that uses superb practical special effects and makeup, and a story that works on multiple levels -- a masterful horror film from a master of horror.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong gore and violence.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Film Review: The Cell (2000)

The Cell (Review)
United States/2000
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...incredibly chilling, effectively disturbing, and unforgettable."

Using experimental technology, child psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) is able to enter and interact with the minds of her coma patients. Meanwhile, serial killer Carl Rudolph Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) is captured, but slips into a coma before FBI Agent Novak (Vince Vaughn) can find his latest victim. Now, Catherine and Novak join forces to enter the mind of a vicious serial killer.

The Cell is a fantastic SciFi crime thriller. The story continues with the second act taking place primarily in the mind of Stargher -- a mind filled with violent, sadistic visuals. Catherine travels through his mind interacting with several different Starghers attempting to win his trust and hoping to find clues to the final victim. Throughout this act, I'd argue throughout the entire film, there is an epic, engaging vibe that really keeps you hooked. Meanwhile, Novak tries to find clues himself, and finds himself in the killer's mind, literally. The Cell keeps its momentum until its great ending; although I usually enjoy the non-traditional endings a bit more, this one fit just right.

The Cell is very much like The Silence of The Lambs. Both films feature deep psychology that travels deep into the mind of a vicious serial killer. However, The Cell works mostly off of its disturbing yet subtly symbolic visuals rather than its dialogue; you can really absorb a lot of Stargher's character simply though the visuals, which is quite an achievement. On top of that, these are nightmare-inducing visuals that can keep you up at night, and they are very consistent during the second act; these are visuals that remind of the Silent Hill video games, or a Clive Barker film adaptation -- incredibly chilling, effectively disturbing, and unforgettable. I really like the implementation of the SciFi elements, they explain enough to hook you, but keep it limited enough to avoid boring you with too many technicalities.

Jennifer Lopez is great as the lead -- she has that sexy whisper voice throughout, but the rest of her performance is very good. I feel like Lopez has great charisma in this film creating an easily likable character. Vince Vaughn delivers a good performance, as well, although he plays it safe. I really liked Vincent D'Onofrio versatile performance -- very creepy and disturbing at times, but also remorseful when needed. The special effects and makeup are superb, still holding up over a decade later. The music and cinematography also effectively compliment each other to create an immersive, creepy atmosphere. I liked Tarsem Singh's direction, as well as the camerawork, as it was engaging and consistent.

Overall, The Cell is a fantastic psychological crime thriller -- one can even argue it's a fantastic SciFi and horror film since it uses these elements very well. The story is great, the visuals are engaging and petrifying, the music is epic, and the direction is great. The Cell is a well-rounded film that sticks with you.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, disturbing visuals, and nudity.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Film Review: Blood Runs Cold (2011)

Blood Runs Cold (Review)
Sweden/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...this is more of a slasher to kill time and have fun..."

Winona (Hanna Oldenburg), a writer, escapes her stressful life by returning to her hometown when her manager rents her a cabin in the woods. At a bar, Winona runs into her ex-boyfriend and his friends, and she eventually invites them back to her place... which isn't as empty as they initially believed.

Blood Runs Cold is a very simple slasher. The first act consists of Winona running into her ex-boyfriend and reconnecting; she also meets her boyfriend's friends, and they have a small get-together when they return to her place. This noble attempt at character development unfortunately fails, and becomes a drag as it lasts about 30 minutes with minimal suspense. Afterward, chaos erupts as an axe-wielding maniac makes his presence known. And so, the occupants are picked off one by one, until Blood Runs Cold reaches its predictable conclusion. Really, you've seen it all before.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. Blood Runs Cold has more than a handful of great moments. I like the foreshadowing with the unnamed antagonist moving around in the background of some scenes. There are some very suspenseful scenes, as well, including great chases. The antagonist's design is also great, he's often intimidating and becomes creepier during the end. The violence and gore effects are practical, which is always interesting to watch; there are gallons and gallons of blood, but some of the kills are off-screen. All of this isn't half bad, especially considering the supposed $5000 budget. Of course, there are quite a few illogical scenes, as well as the rushed ending -- if you can't forgive plot contrivances, this may not be for you.

Hanna Oldenburg plays the lead, and she delivers a solid performance throughout most of the film; her screaming can use some help, though, she definitely won't be winning scream queen any time soon. The rest of the cast do a competent job. The acting does suffer from some cliché dialogue, though; some of the dialogue is cheesy, and awkward due to the lack of chemistry between the cast. The special effects and cinematography are an accomplishment considering the budget, and they'd be great even with a larger budget. The story is generally a trip down memory lane, and it ultimately feels incomplete, so the writing really isn't all that great. Sonny Laguna has great direction, though, as he builds great suspense in the latter half of the film.

Overall, Blood Runs Cold is a good slasher. The first act is a drag to get through, but the rest of the film delivers great suspense, and some interesting effects for gore fans. If you're a picky viewer, you may not be able to get over the plot contrivances, though; this is more of a slasher to kill time and have fun, rather than a slasher to compete with Halloween or Black Christmas.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some nudity and sex.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Film Review: Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas (Review)
Canada/1974
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...Black Christmas (1974) is one of the best horror films of all time."

A group of girls at a sorority house are tormented by "the moaner," a man who has recently been calling the home with disturbing messages and who has been lurking in their attic...

Black Christmas continues with the girls being picked off one by one; their tormenter is able to kill them when their isolated and hide their bodies leaving the other roommates oblivious. Between each murder, the house receives a chilling phone call that give some subtle background to the serial killer. And, finally, the police get involved and begin investigating the calls after a child is found murdered in the park. Black Christmas is a simple yet immensely disturbing slasher that ends with an equally devastating finale.

First, don't expect a fast-paced, thrilling slasher -- it's best to adjust your expectations. Rather, Black Christmas is an unsettling, slow-burning slasher. It focuses on its story and character first, while also building up a creepy atmosphere. The creepiness is developed through the atmosphere, and its unsettling phone calls; easily the most memorable parts of the film, as well as within the whole genre, the phone calls are as mesmerizing as they are chilling. ("Agnes? It's me, Billy.") Aside from the phone calls, there are also some unsettling visuals, like subtle shadow movements and one freaky eye. The killings are spread throughout the film, some more violent than others, but all are disturbing -- from the asphyxiation with plastic to the stabbing. Most fans of horror will be pleased to hear that Black Christmas relies more on its genuine suspense than its violence -- and, even so, the violence may still shock some viewers. There is also some black humor that works itself well into the film.

The acting is great from the entire cast, especially the voice cast that handled the phone calls. Olivia Hussey is the lead, and I thought she was great; however, she should work on her phone communication, and her "Hello." The writing is very polished and straightforward; there are a few moments that initially felt illogical, but, thinking back, they were more about morals than stupidity, so they're forgivable. Bob Clark's direction is great, I like the camerawork and the different perspectives it uses, as well as the atmospheric, slow-burn approach.

Overall, Black Christmas is a fantastic 70s slasher. Without being too graphically violent, Black Christmas delivers the scares and cold sweat through pure suspense and creepiness. Too be a bit more blunt, Black Christmas (1974) is one of the best horror films of all time. Don't miss this gem, I plan on revisiting this film for Christmas.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Film Review: The Apparition (2012)

The Apparition (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...feels like a fan-acted compilation of someone's favorite horror set-pieces."

Ben (Sebastian Stan) is involved in a supernatural experiment that ends tragically. Later, Ben has moved in with his girlfriend, Kelly (Ashley Greene), and they are settling in. Eventually, the pair experience unusual events of a possible haunting...

The Apparition is a simple haunted house ghost story. It pretends to be a much deeper and complex ghost story, but it never sufficiently uses any of its concepts to create a unique story. Basically, Ben and Kelly spend a couple of nights in their home where odd things occur -- doors open alone, furniture is moved, unusual markings are left, etc. -- then, they leave for a moment only to realize the haunting has followed them. Finally, they try to beat the haunting with some underdeveloped concept of contacting the dead. It ends at Costco where you'll find great prices on camping equipment and cacti. (It's a movie reference, I don't actually know their pricing.)

The story is bland -- soulless, lifeless, purposeless. The Apparition lacks significant events and plot points, along with actual character; every event feels so minuscule, causing every reaction to feel overdone -- how can you feel relief and believe you'll "finally" live a normal life when the haunting is treated like a simple bump on the road? The characters are nonexistent, I actually couldn't remember their names and their respective roles; unfortunate considering much of the first act attempts to build character through boring conversations and interactions.

As far as scares, The Apparition is scare-less and unoriginal. First, any avid horror fan will recognize most of the scares from many other films. This isn't a case of influence or "borrowing", this is a simple case of copy-and-paste syndrome; in fact, The Apparition, with its lack of significant story events, feels like a fan-acted compilation of someone's favorite horror set-pieces. The problem with the scares consists of the following: the tension is nonexistent, the jump-scares are poorly timed, setup, and executed, and... there isn't much else. There is one scene I liked, which had some solid (borrowed) visuals and an impressive transition -- but only one scene. Expect poorly executed elements from old-school, contemporary, and foreign (specifically Asian) horror.

Going into the film, I didn't know much about the story or cast. However, I read so much about the hot and attractive lead in the Youtube comments and other forums, how she makes the film worth it and so on. Well, Ashley Greene is the lead in this film and she's good looking, don't get me wrong, but her looks don't reach my self-made hype, which likely came from her Twilight fans; her performance is good, nothing special, but not terrible, either. The same goes for Sebastian Stan and his performance -- nothing impressive, or depreciative. The real offender is Todd Lincoln with his copy-paste, lazy writing and almost nonexistent direction.

Overall, The Apparition is a decently acted horror film with one solid scene. The rest of the film is filled with cliché, boring characters doing cliché, boring things without significance; the "scares" are copied and pasted from other horror films, but Todd Lincoln forgot to copy a vital element in each -- THE HORROR! Avoid this film unless it appears on a instant streaming service, don't pay directly to watch this film.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Film Review: Apollo 18 (2011)

Apollo 18 (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"The film comes in at about 1 hour and 16 minutes -- about an hour too much."

In December 1974, a crew is set to secretly land on the Moon for a special mission from the Department of Defense. The crew safely lands and completes their mission, but realize they may not be alone...

Apollo 18 is a found-footage SciFi Horror film. The story is as basic as it gets. The crew continue to explore the area and find that they may not be alone. As they try to leave, their flight is complicated and they are forced to wait for extraction. Eventually, they are attacked by an unknown species and must plan their own escape. There really isn't much going on, just talking and occasional exploration; there aren't many significant events, and the film moves slowly to a dull climax. The story ends practically the same as every other found-footage horror film out there -- abruptly and unfulfilling.

So, there isn't much going on in the story. Unfortunately, there isn't much terror, either. Apollo 18 isn't a scary film by any means. The suspense is almost nonexistent, except for a scene or two. There are a few jump-scares, mostly fake-outs, but there is one good one. The unknown entity in this film is weak -- it's unique, but has little screen presence and the design is forgettable, and many will laugh at the initially perceived concept. The scares, or the attempts at scares, are far and few in between. Boring story and lack of scares -- this was better off a short film or YouTube project.

The acting is mostly good, it is a bit overdone towards the end, but it's mostly competent and enjoyable. I really liked the set and costume design, it was interesting and felt authentic. Unfortunately, the direction and writing is poor, as the film feels bland from beginning to end. The found-footage is often too choppy visually, and the purposeful audio "dialogue out of sync" mixing is confusing for the storytelling and unnecessary. There isn't much else to say about the technicalities.

Overall, Apollo 18 is a short film poorly disguised as feature length. The pacing is slow, without suspense, scares, or payoff; the story is boring and uneventful; and, the best part of the film -- the costume and setting design -- is under-and-poorly utilized. The film comes in at about 1 hour and 16 minutes -- about an hour too much.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.