Friday, October 31, 2014

Film Review: V/H/S/2 (2013)

V/H/S/2 (Review)
United States/Indonesia/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...packed to the rim with tension, jump-scares, and plenty of gore."

Two private investigators search for a missing college student. In the seemingly abandoned home, they find several VHS tapes with disturbing content...

Like it's predecessor, V/H/S/2 is an anthology horror film. The frame story follows this pair as they investigate the disappearance, primarily by watching the tapes in the home. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” follows a man who receives an ocular implant with supernatural abilities – this is a great jump-scare horror film. “A Ride In The Park” follows a cyclist who runs into a hysterical woman and soon finds himself surrounded by zombies – a fun and funny story, but not frightening. “Safe Haven” follows a news crew as they infiltrate a cult and interview its leader – the best story in the film with a superb climax. “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” is pretty self-explanatory – it's another fun jump-scare horror film, but suffers from some minor technical flaws.

I enjoyed every story in this film. The frame story is creepy and effective, and it leads to a surprising ending. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” is original and exciting. I saw this film last summer and the jump-scares were still effective today – that's a great accomplishment for a film that almost fully relies on jump-scares. “A Ride In The Park” is a little disappointing in retrospect. Each story is frightening and exciting, and this film is a change in mood – not a bad film, but it is certainly different and probably misplaced. “Safe Haven” is my personal favorite. In fact, it's one of my favorite stories from any horror anthology. A great concept, great suspense and tension, plenty of terror and gore, and fantastic acting. The film ends on a somewhat fun note with “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” The story has great jump-scares and some decent humor, but, let's face it, no one wants to watch a dog bloodied and crying – even if it is fake.

The acting is mostly decent – that's being generous. Some of the cast sound completely out of place, so unnatural. The only story with great acting is “Safe Haven.” The annoying found-footage flaws from the first film have been fixed for the most part. Except for “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” I did feel nauseous at all. It's a much more technically stable film than the first, so if the first made you sick due to the shaky-cam, give this one a try. The special effects are great, too, I really enjoyed the practical effects. The writing and direction is great for each story. Each writer and director in this anthology helped revitalize my interest in the sub-genre. Adam Wingard and Gareth Evans standout with their exemplary direction and writing – the writing obviously more notably for Evans.

Overall, V/H/S/2 is a fantastic horror anthology. It's packed to the rim with tension, jump-scares, and plenty of gore. The stories also give life to an otherwise stale sub-genre. (i.e. found-footage) It's a better film than the original by every standard. In fact, this is how you make a sequel. I don't quite rank it up with my favorite horror anthology, Trick R' Treat, which I watched and reviewed last Halloween, but it's a fantastic film to follow-up on it.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Film Review: V/H/S (2012)

V/H/S (Review)
United States/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...very enjoyable and unique for the genre."

A group of criminals are paid to burglarize a home and steal a VHS tape. They find dozens and dozens of tapes and search for the correct one...

V/H/S is an anthology horror film. The frame story follows this group of criminals as they watch the tapes. “Amateur Night” follows a group of partying friends who plan to record their sexual adventures through a camera secretly placed on a pair of glasses – this is the most interesting but technically-flawed. “Second Honeymoon” follows a couple on their second honeymoon – this one is the most uneventful yet surprising. “Tuesday the 17th” follows four friends who enter the woods and face an different type of killer – also an interesting story, but not very effective. “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” follows Emily, who believes her apartment is haunted, as the video chats with her boyfriend – a very fast-paced jump-scare story that is very enjoyable. Finally, “10/31/98” follows a group of friends who head out to a Halloween party, but find themselves in an odd situation – another fast-paced jump-scare story that is entertaining.

All in all, I liked four of the stories in V/H/S. The only story that was on the mediocre side was “Tuesday the 17th.” Otherwise, they are all very enjoyable and unique for the genre. I really appreciate that, too. I know there are some supernatural elements in these stories, but they are more creative than the typical output in the found-footage sub-genre. I should note, though, “Second Honeymoon” is very slow-paced and somewhat uneventful. This is a Ti West film, which explains the pacing, and, although I ultimately enjoyed it, I don't think his style is suited for short films. The climax is superb, but the buildup is too much for such a come-and-go climax. Most of the short films have a decent variety of horror, such as spooky visuals and plenty of jump-scares.

The acting is good. Most characters are are generic douchebags, but this cast plays them well. The biggest flaw for some of these short films is the found-footage style. For example, “Amateur Night” is a great concept with some solid buildup and creepy visuals; however, this film is plagued with nauseating camerawork, a choppy framerate and sloppy editing. Consequently, it's difficult to get through, which is so disappointing. I even felt sick a few times – and I've seen dozens of found-footage films. Fortunately, most of the other stories keep the camera smooth enough to avoid this feeling. Aside from the poor use of found-footage at times, the direction is great. Ti West, like I said, delivers a tense and suspenseful slow-burn, Joe Swanberg has a great pace and some jolting scares, and Radio Silence deliver a very fun finale. I also applaud the writing for avoiding the run-of-the-mill ghost stories.

Overall, aside from one weak story and some technical flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed V/H/S. However, I am a sucker for horror anthologies. This film has some decent variety and some great scares. Despite being borderline uneventful, Ti West delivers the most memorable moment in this collection. If you love creative horror anthologies and can tolerate the found-footage style, this is definitely worth your time!

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, full nudity and some sexuality.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Film Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Review)
Canada/2010
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"It's all absolutely hilarious and that's all you need to know..."

A group of college students go camping in the backwoods where they encounter the eccentric but well-meaning hillbillies Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine).

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is really just one large misunderstanding. On one side, the college students believe Tucker and Dale are psychopathic killers who have kidnapped their friend, Allie. On the other hand, Tucker and Dale believe the college students are on a suicide pact and want to kill Allie, who the pair saved from drowning. It's all absolutely hilarious and that's all you need to know about the plot. This funny satire leads to a satisfying ending.

The story is a humorous, well-written satire. It effectively clowns genre clichés and stereotypes. The humor is irreverent and black, with some gags and slapstick. I loved the use of coincidence in the humor, it was expertly written to satire the tired cabin-in-the-woods genre. There are a few jokes that don't land, but it's consistently hilarious for the most part. The best of the humor comes when Tucker and Dale share the screen, which is fortunately most of the time. As for the horror: it's more of a theme, so don't really expect anything terrifying. However, there's plenty of gore and violence to satisfy some of your horror needs.

The entire cast play their roles well. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine steal the show, though; great chemistry in the friendship, and hilarious reactions and lines. The cinematography is reminiscent of other modern horror films; the film really went all-out in satirizing the genre. Director and co-writer Eli Craig crafts a hilarious horror-comedy; he blends both elements very well, and he also balances the different types of humor well, too.

Overall, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a great horror-comedy. The film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and plenty of over-the-top gore to satisfy fans of both genres. Aside from a few fall flat gags and jokes, there aren't many issues with the film. There's definitely room for improvement, but nothing worth nitpicking. Fans of comedies and horror films should seek Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some partial nudity. (a very dark and brief scene.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Film Review: The Sacrament (2013)

The Sacrament (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...one of the better contemporary horror movies..."

A pair of filmmakers document a friend's attempt to locate his estranged sister after she joins an isolate religious community.

The Sacrament is a mockumentary following reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg), who document Patrick as he searches for his sister. They are led to Eden Parish, an isolated community which is only accessible by helicopter. A community free of violence, drugs, and racism -- free of capitalism, imperialism, and materialism. So, the crew documents this community until they meet the charismatic leader called "Father" (Gene Jones). Eventually, they find everything is not what it seems. The final act becomes more of a traditional thriller; oddly, it also feels slower and less immersive. The ending is good, though.

The Sacrament is a great film. In fact, I think the first two acts are fantastic. I love the mockumentary-style, and the concept is very well executed. The Sacrament feels like a genuine documentary. Eden Parish feels like a real utopia, like a real community. And this great feeling of authenticity contributes greatly to the overall immersion of the film. I also love the feeling of being immersed -- you know, the type of movie where your eyes are locked on the screen and you never check the runtime. Aside from the great immersion, The Sacrament is tense and suspenseful. Some moments were nail-bitingly tense, like the masterful interview segment.

The Sacrament isn't absolutely perfect, though. As I previously stated, the final act becomes more of a traditional thriller and opts for a more predictable route -- you can guess where it's going, probably before even starting the film. As soon as it hits the climax, the amazing slow-burn feeling cools down. The pacing picks up, but it feels less immersive and less effective. Despite the hectic thrills, the film's grand finale fails to land as effectively as the first two acts. That doesn't make The Sacrament terrible, but it makes the ending a bit more disappointing.

The acting is all-around great, especially from the supporting cast. AJ Bowen, who slightly disappointed in The Rites of Spring, delivers a good performance. Joe Swanberg is also good, although he shares less screen time. Gene Jones, however, steals the show with a wonderfully charismatic and memorable performance. The film's mockumentary-style manages to capture some great photography. The camerawork is also great, although it occasionally becomes somewhat nauseating during the final act. The ominous music helped in setting the chilling atmosphere. I wasn't a big fan of the orange blood, though. Writer and director Ti West, who also directs The Innkeepers, is great; the story is interesting and engaging, the performances are great, and the tension is strong.

Overall, The Sacrament is a great film. It's a very tense and suspenseful slow-burn mockumentary. I was hooked during the first two acts and, although I was a bit disappointed, I was adequately satisfied by the finale. The superb performance from Gene Jones helps this film anchor itself as one of the better contemporary horror movies -- both in general horror and in acting. For fans of slow-burn films and Ti West, I strongly recommend.

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Film Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (Review)
United States/1990
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...more of an outline of the portrait..."

The brutal murder spree of Henry (Michael Rooker) and his prison buddy Otis (Tom Towles) in Chicago.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer follows the titular character as, well, he kills. It also follows his roommate Otis, who also kills and sells drugs, and Otis' sister Becky, a troubled woman looking to fix her life. The plot is fairly simple, though. It begins in the middle of Henry's killing spree, eventually Otis, who is controlled like a dog by Henry, joins, and Becky works and chats with Henry. It's brutal and savage at times, and paints a somewhat accurate portrait of a serial killer – well, at least the brutal violence is caught accurately. The ending of the film is good, though.

The film is very effective. As simple as it may sound – because it is – it is incredibly effective. The violence is graphic and unforgettable. There are many visuals of death. The visuals of the aftermath were the most impacting, in my opinion. The film has scenes, especially during the beginning, of the dead bodies and these are very graphic. Scenes of strangulation and stabbings, as well burns and dismemberment – truly some shocking stuff. And, it's covered in an ominous and tense atmosphere, with some great suspense here and there. The cold-hearted characters are equally effective, too. Henry and Otis are brutal savages, they laugh and have fun during their murders, which makes them really evil. Their conversations are equally tense, too.

However, the simplicity is also a negative for the film. This is supposed to be a portrait of a serial killer. At least, that's what I would think it would be – and rightfully so, considering the title. But, it ends up being more of an outline of the portrait – it's not filled in, the details are missing. We get a little information on Henry's background, but not enough to really know him. It doesn't make the film bad – not at all – but it makes the film less effective. More importantly, it makes the film's violence feel more gratuitous.

The acting is great. Michael Rooker is really strong as the lead; he has the twisted charisma and charm for the role. Tom Towles is decent. Towles is great when he's being a psychopath, which is most of the performance, but he's mediocre otherwise. The film looks decent, nothing special when it comes to the cinematography. The music is great, though – a soundtrack straight from the 1980s. The makeup is also great, it really helped create more effective and graphic violence. Director John McNaughton delivers a graphic and unforgettable serial killer experience; it does lack some important character, but it is ultimately a film that is difficult to forget – and rightfully so.

Overall, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is great film. It's definitely not a film for everyone, even for people who love serial killer films. For example, a film like Memories of Murder focuses on the investigation and mystery, and it succeeds. A film like The Chaser focuses on the breathtaking thrills, and it succeeds. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer focuses on the violence and murder, and, well, it succeeds. A film that is dominated mostly by violence is not as effective or attractive as the two former, but it ends up working. If you can tolerate the violence and if you're an open-minded fan of the genre, this is for you.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, including gore, nudity and sex.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Film Review: Omnivores (2013)

Omnivores (Review)
Mexico/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a very chilling and effective film."

Marcos Vela (Mario de la Rosa), a highly-regarded gastronomic journalist, begins to investigate Clandestine restaurants at the request of an independent publisher. His investigation leads him to a dark discovery...

Omnivores is a simple yet effective horror film. The story follows Marcos Vela as he visits several Clandestine restaurants. He socializes with the other guests and he eats some rare food, such as fugu. Eventually, Marcos catches on to the possibility of a cannibalistic clandestine restaurant. It peaks his interest as a perfect fit for his research and he ventures deeper into this vicious world. The ending of the film lasted a bit too long – I felt like it started to drag without reason – but it was good enough.

Most of the film is good. In fact, I would say it was great. The film develops an ominous atmosphere from the beginning, and the themes of cannibalism are very creepy and chilling. The first half of the film works effectively in building up a shocking and impacting climax – not in the surprising sense, but more in the disturbing and violent sense. Regardless, the buildup is there and, more importantly, it works. Those who cringe at the sight of violence and gore may have some nightmares. I don't think this film has as much torture or gore as Hostel or Saw, but it is graphic and effective.

It's not the perfect film, though. I understand films can't be 100% realistic – I get it, it's unreasonable to expect that. However, there really has to be a line. I won't spoil the latter half of the film, although it does suffer from some inconsistent logic. But, I can use examples of earlier on in the movie. So, minor spoiler, this cannibal restaurant abducts people for their meat. That's clear and seems okay for the plot. However, the abductions are ridiculous. You're telling me someone can walk around with a meat tenderizer, knock a person out, and throw them in the trunk and no one will notice. There's one scene where a woman is kidnapped right after she walks away from her friends – it couldn't have been longer than 15 seconds – and you expect me to believe no one is going to notice.

Otherwise, the acting is great. Mario de la Rosa dominates most of the screen time – fortunately, he's charismatic and very genuine, especially in the latter half of the film. The supporting cast is also very strong. I love watching horror films with great acting, it makes the movie much more effective. The film looks decent, no complaints for the cinematography. The music is also good; however, it is often overwhelming – very loud and unnecessarily strong at times. Director Oscar Rojo delivers a very disturbing horror film; the themes are chilling, the atmosphere is immersive, there some solid tension and suspense, and the torture is cringe-worthy – all in all, it's a very chilling and effective film.

Overall, Omnivores is a very good horror film. In an age ruled by supernatural horror movies, I definitely appreciate a film like this. The concept is both chilling and daring but, more importantly, it's very well executed. It's a film that gave me chills quite a few times and kept me hooked from beginning to end. There are a few inconsistencies in the plot, but it was satisfying enough. It may not be a horror film for everyone, especially those who only watch supernatural horror, this is more of an acquired taste.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, full-frontal nudity and sex.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Film Review: Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs (Review)
France/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (eOne Films)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...one of them most unsettling and disturbing films I've ever watched."

Imprisoned and physically tormented as a child, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) seeks vengeance from the people responsible.

Martyrs follows the troubled Lucie and her lifelong friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) after Lucie executes a seemingly normal family. Lucie is convinced this family is responsible for the heinous torture she endured as a child, and Anna reluctantly agrees to help her closest friend. Unfortunately, the revenge doesn't offer Lucie's inner-demons any satisfaction. Eventually, Anna learns more about Lucie's past and is forced to follow the same path. The ending is shocking – it feels somewhat like a cop-out, but it was very interesting.

Martyrs isn't a traditional horror film. It's not even a traditional torture film. Martyrs is more of a horror-drama hybrid, like The Exorcist. Consequently, the horror is much more effective. In fact, this is one of them most unsettling and disturbing films I've ever watched. It's one of the few films that I actually have difficulties watching due to the disturbing themes and graphic violence – both of which are amplified by the drama elements and acting. It's not something that simply aims to gross you out. Instead, this film gave me the chills; it induced that huge lump in my throat.

The story is more complicated and detailed than my synopsis, but it's a film that's better when you know less. The plot is ultimately very effective. It's confined to one area, but it's multilayered. The pacing is great, too, the film flows very naturally and stays on its feet. Other than the graphic violence, the film uses disturbing visuals and jolting jump-scares to frighten. Like I said, it's all very effective. There aren't many jump-scares, if that's what you're looking for, but most of them work very well.

The acting is all-around strong from the entire cast. Mylene Jampanoi is very good. Morjana Alaoui is fantastic as the lead – great expressions. The film is shot very well, despite its graphic violence and unsettling themes. The music is also very effective in inducing several emotions – it can be horrifying one scene, then somber during another. The special effects and makeup are fantastic; these really helped created the disturbing visuals. Writer and director Pascal Laugier, who also directed House of Voices, delivers a vicious horror film and a resonating drama. It's a fantastic blend that creates an incredibly effective and unforgettable horror-drama experience.

Overall, Martyrs is a vicious film. It's definitely not a film for everyone. In fact, despite my high praise and high score, I can't recommend this film to just anyone. It's too graphic in presentation and too polarizing in theme. But, if you're an open-minded film-goer and can tolerate extreme violence, this film might be worth a viewing. It won't be entertaining per se, but it will certainly be effective. So effective, you may never forget it.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, including torture, and some nudity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Film Review: Ju-on: Black Ghost (2009)

Ju-on: Black Ghost (Review)
Japan/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...blends several types of horror to create a consistent and versatile horror experience."

After she faints at school, a young girl, Fukie discovers she has cyst in her body, which is actually her unborn twin.

Much like the rest of this film series, Ju-on: Black Ghost is told in non-chronological order. Consequently, it will take some effort from the audience to fully understand the film; it is engaging storytelling, but it can also be unnecessarily convoluted. Also like the rest of this film series, Ju-on: Black Ghost follows a large set of characters as they experience this grudge. The grudged sibling in Ju-on: Black Ghost torments Fukie and her family, as well as anyone who crosses its path, including a young nurse named Yuko and her neighbor. The story is creepy and creative, and it leads to a great ending.

Ju-on: Black Ghost is the most distinct film in the series. It still centers around a grudge, but it feels more like a possession film this time around, with the Ju-on signature horror. And, I like that about the film – I like it a lot. It helps the film differentiate itself while still serving as an excellent complimentary piece to White Ghost, or any other film in the series. The possession elements aren't cliché, either, it serves more as a vessel to deliver some fresh horror to the series.

And, Ju-on: Black Ghost is scary film. It blends several types of horror to create a consistent and versatile horror experience. The ghostly visuals are nightmarish – the piercing eyes in the darkness are chilling. In fact, there seem to be plenty of eye visuals in this film – I like them, a lot of creepy stares. The eerie croaking sound has a strong and disturbing presence, too. There are quite a few jump-scares here, as well, but not nearly as many as its predecessors. I don't necessarily mind, considering it does introduce some possession-like horror, but it is worth noting.

The acting is mostly good. I particularly love the death-stares some of the cast deliver, like Hana Matsumoto and Yuno Nakazono. It is a little melodramatic, though, especially some of the screaming. Otherwise, this is also a low-budget horror film. It does well in using practical camerawork, sound, and visuals to create its horror – I'm impressed. The special effects are good; some seem out of place, but I didn't mind, I was more frightened than bothered. Writer and director Mari Asato, who also helms Ring of Curse, does very well in crafting some terrifying moments and differentiating herself from the rest of the series – without alienating any fans; the film does suffer from some confusing storytelling and plot points, but Mari Asato's direction is as refreshing as ever – she's one of my favorite modern Japanese horror directors, and I look forward to seeing more from her.

Overall, Ju-on: Black Ghost is a very good Japanese horror film. It's a little different from the other films in the series, but it still manages to scare and entertain. I think Ju-on: White Ghost had more of an impact and was a bit more frightening, but Black Ghost is an excellent complimentary piece; in other words, watch them both. Strongly recommended for fans of horror and Ju-on.

Last year during our 31 Days of Halloween special, I reviewed Ju-on and Ju-on 2, now I give you Ju-on: White Ghost and Black Ghost. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed watching and writing.

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Film Review: Ju-on: White Ghost (2009)

Ju-on: White Ghost (Review)
Japan/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...the best film in the series since the original..."

The grudge of a murdered family is experienced by anyone who crosses it, including family friend Akane Kashiwagi (Akina Minami) and a delivery boy (Hiroki Suzuki)...

Ju-on: White Ghost requires some effort to fully digest. The story, which is really fairly simple, is a bit complicated due to the non-chronological storytelling. On one hand, well, it's complicated. On the other hand, it keeps you engaged. The story itself follows a set of characters as they experience the haunting of a family massacre caused by Atsushi, who becomes possessed after he moves into a new home with his family. It's grizzly and it enters some taboo territory, but it's all-around creepy. The ending is good, too.

Ju-on: White Ghost is an excellent entry into the Ju-on series of films. The story is reminiscent of the original films, which also utilize non-chronological storytelling. However, this film is a bit more violent and a bit more disturbing due to some themes, such as sexual abuse. White Ghost excels most in its use of a variety of horror methods. This film utilizes everything I love about horror – everything!

It builds up some nail-biting suspense and tension. It uses creepy, spine-tingling visuals. (I don't care what anyone says, the grandma with the basketball is chilling!) It also features some spooky audio; in this case, it's not as memorable as the meowing and croaking of the original, but good, nonetheless. And, if you're a fan of jump-scares, Ju-on: White Ghost has a barrage of jolters. I was even more impressed when I considered the micro-budget of the film – it utilizes great practical skills to scare.

The acting is all-around good. It can be melodramatic here and there, but it wasn't bad – not bad, at all. However, it is difficult to gauge the cast's range due to the short screen time of each actor. The film is otherwise a low-budget horror film. It makes do with what it has, though. There's some decent cinematography and some decent camerawork, too. The makeup effects are decent; I personally enjoyed it immensely, but I can see it looks a bit amateurish. Director Ryuta Miyake masterfully crafts some horrifying moments, even more so impressively when you consider the budget limitations; the storytelling could use some work, but it is otherwise a frightening and exciting horror film thanks to Miyake's direction.

Overall, Ju-on: White Ghost is a great Japanese horror film. It blends a great variety of horror to create a consistently scary and entertaining film. The storytelling requires some effort from the audience, but the story itself is chilling and disturbing. Ju-on: White Ghost is the best film in the series since the original – strongly recommended.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including some gore and implied sexual abuse.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Film Review: House of Voices (aka Saint Ange) (2004)

House of Voices (aka Saint Ange) (Review)
France/2004
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...I found this film to move way too slow on more than one occasion."

In 1958, Anna (Virginie Ledoyen), a cleaning woman, is sent to the closing Saint Ange orphanage to clean, but finds it may be home to a sinister secret...

House of Voices is a conflicting film. On one hand, the story is very simple and even uneventful. On the other hand, the story features some great visuals and symbolism, and is mostly open to interpretation. In a sense, House of Voices is a simple yet complex horror film. The story simply follows Anna, her coworker, and the last remaining orphan as they work. Anna begins to hear and witness the unexplainable, such as whispers and moving objects. Then, she begins to unravel the mystery within the orphanage. The climax is interesting, and so is the ending; however, the ending was overly ambiguous -- I'm not certain I fully understood.

Aside from the often uneventful plot, House of Voices also suffers from some inconsistent pacing. I love slow-burn horror films, I think they're my absolute favorites in the genre. In this case, House of Voices occasionally moves too slow. It starts building up the suspense, keeps building to add the burn... then keeps building, and building, and building. House of Voices simply has too much buildup, which causes some of the suspense to dwindle. Consequently, it also keeps the film on the border of suspenseful and boring, and may cause the audience to disengage and doze off.

It's not all bad, though. I liked the simplicity of the story. I love a classic ghost story, and this film develops a decent atmosphere for the occasion. I also like the complexities of the film. The visuals of the film give you something to think about -- they give you the opportunity to participate in the mystery. At the same time, some of the visual terror is enough to give you goosebumps. The surreal climax is especially noteworthy. I won't lose any sleep at night, but the horror in this film is a saving grace for an otherwise uneventful and often dull story.

The acting is good. Virginie Ledoyen is a decent leading lady; the role isn't really demanding, though. The supporting cast is also decent. The cinematography is fantastic; the film looks amazing, featuring superb photography and camerawork. The music is also very effective in setting the ominous mood and developing the creepy atmosphere. The Netflix Instant version is available in English, but it is not a dub; apparently, this film was shot in French and English, but I might have false information. Writer and director Pascal Laugier is decent; Laugier is great in photography, visuals, and atmosphere, but lacks the proper suspense -- with too much buildup, the film never hits the fuse.

Overall, House of Voices, also known as Saint Ange, is a decent horror film. The story is interesting, but it has a very inconsistent pace, which in turn hurts the suspense and buildup. It can be frightening one minute, then dull the next. Even as a fanboy of slow-burn horror films, I found this film to move way too slow on more than one occasion. If you're a very patient moviegoer and a fan of ghost stories, this is worth renting or streaming.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some blood, and some full nudity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Film Review: The Booth (2005)

The Booth (Review)
Japan/2005
Format Viewed For Review: DVD (Tartan Asia Extreme)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Japanese horror films..."

Arrogant radio DJ Shingo (Ryuta Sato) temporarily broadcasts his call-in show from Studio 6, a booth with a haunting past...

The Booth is a very straightforward and simple story. The story follows Shingo as he regularly hosts his call-in show. However, it becomes irregular when the call begin to spark some of his memories and as a mysterious voice cuts in to call him a liar. Is it the haunting of the booth? Is he being sabotaged by his co-workers? Or has his own past remerged to haunting him? The story pieces together very well up to an interesting, although somewhat contrived, climax. The story does lose some momentum towards the end, but the ending itself was decent.

I found the simplicity of The Booth to be very attractive. Even as the film jumps from flashback to the present, and vice versa, the storytelling never lost me. It's very clear and concise -- some plot points are strange, but I was never actually confused. The storytelling also kept me engaged and interested. The horror was the main treat, but the mystery was actually mysterious -- I didn't know where it was headed, despite the simplicity.

As for horror, this isn't a "jump-out-and-scare-you" horror film. It does have a handful of loud noise jump-scares, but The Booth is more of a slow-burn. It builds up nail-biting suspense and tension, it has some subtle and spooky visuals, and it's engulfed in an ominous and eerie atmosphere. And, I absolutely loved the latter; the focus on a terrifying and immersive atmosphere allows the audience to genuinely feel like they're in the haunted booth with Shingo. If you like suspenseful films, this is for you.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Ryuta Sato does very well in the role; one second he's the charismatic DJ, the next he is the arrogant person that plays the charismatic DJ. I liked the film's photography and style; I especially loved the introduction. The music also helps create the creepy-vibe of the film; it is sort of a standard horror soundtrack, but it definitely works well with the film. The English subtitles on the DVD are great, I didn't notice any significant flaws. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura expertly crafts a suspenseful and atmospheric horror film; however, it does lose some momentum towards the end and some plot points are strange, to say the least.

Overall, The Booth is a great horror film. It's not an in-your-face horror film, and I genuinely enjoy that. As a big fan of slow-burn and atmospheric horror, this was a surprising treat. The Booth is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated Japanese horror films I've ever seen -- it stands next to classics like Ringu and Ju-on: The Grudge.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Film Review: [Rec] 3: Genesis (2012)

[Rec 3]: Genesis (Review)
Spain/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (eOne Films)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a very fun and entertaining zombie film by its own standards."

Koldo (Diego Martin) and Clara (Leticia Dolera) celebrate their wedding with their very large and extensive family. All is well until an uncle takes a bite out of his wife...

Rec 3: Genesis begins with the series' signature found-footage style. The introduction features some nice and subtle buildup and character introductions as Adrian, Koldo's cousin, records the event. It also works well in connecting this film with the first two in the series. Eventually, Hell breaks loose in a great sequence, and the found-footage is dropped and replaced with traditional shooting. The rest of the story follows Koldo and Clara, who are separated in the chaos, as they try to reunite. It's fairly simple, but enjoyable. The ending is great – I enjoyed it, definitely something most people won't be accustomed to, though.

Rec 3: Genesis is the most polarizing film in this series – and understandably so. First and foremost, the bulk of this film is traditionally shot – it's no longer found-footage. Some people might like this, some people might hate it. I loved the found-footage in the first two films, and I'm only slightly disappointed that it was replaced in this installment. Even more polarizing, though, is the drastic change in mood. The first film is a terrifying horror film; the second film is an exciting horror-action movie; this film is a blend of horror, comedy, and romance. And, in this case, I didn't find any of it particularly frightening – the only reason this is considered a horror film is because of the blood and gore, and zombies.

However, I did think Rec 3: Genesis was exciting, funny, and occasionally clever. First, the action and gore reminded me of video games like Dead Rising – a lot melee weapons, like a sword or a mace – or, my personal favorite, a chainsaw. I like this, it's a fun and exciting change for the series. Aside from some exciting zombie action, the film also has some chilling moments. Next, the film features some very lively and humorous characters. For example, Spongebob oops, I mean John Sponge, the completely original character who doesn't infringe on any copyright. *wink wink* The black humor works very well with the rest of the film, and it is occasionally self-aware. (I loved the jab at found-footage.)

The acting is good. It's a little melodramatic at times, but it works well with the overall mood of the film. Leading man and lady Diego Martin and Leticia Dolera are great, though. The film is shot very well, both in found-footage and traditional styles; I especially enjoy the cinematography and the setting, I loved seeing the setting change over time. The music fits well with the film; it creates some tension and it creates some cheesy but humorous moments. The makeup is great, too, some of the gore is superb. This film is helmed by Paco Plaza alone, removing Jaume Balaguero for this entry. Plaza does well in creating a fun mood, but there is a notable lack of actual horror and suspense – I definitely had fun, but it has a some shortcomings.

Overall, Rec 3: Genesis is a very good film. I know many fans will be disappointed by the many differences and departures this film features, but I enjoyed it. It's definitely different from the first two films, and it's nowhere near as scary or suspeneful, but it's a very fun and entertaining zombie film by its own standards. I would honestly be lying if I said I didn't have fun. So, if you're open-minded about films, especially films you know are polarizing beforehand, I think you'll enjoy this one.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film Review: [Rec] 2 (2009)

[Rec] 2 (Review)
Spain/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (eOne Films)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a fantastic action-horror movie."

Immediately after the events of the first film, a Special Operations team with helmet-mounted cameras enter the quarantined apartment with a doctor from the Ministry of Health...

So, obviously you should watch the first film before watching – this is not a standalone sequel. The story follows a very distinguishable 3-act plot. It begins with the team and the doctor entering the building to investigate and complete their mission – which is to extract a vial of blood from the source of the infection. The second act follows a the father of a tenant, a firefighter, and a group of teenagers who sneak into the building – each with their own intentions. Finally, the ending pieces together the mystery with some interesting revelations and characters. I like the final act and the ending of the film – it's definitely different, but I like the originality.

In fact, the entire film is original. I love the blend of possession and zombie, and the found-footage perspective works very well with the setting. In this case, the ending goes beyond the possession and zombie genres, and treads into some experimental territory – and I like it. I also like how this sequel implements a new set of characters. Okay, there is one flaw in these characters – or, more like three. The only thing I didn't like about this film are the annoying teenagers – I mean, they're not only blatantly arrogant, but I think they're borderlines stupid.

It should be noted, though, Rec 2 is different than the original in more ways than simply the characters and some of the new ideas it implements. Rec 2 is more of an action-horror movie rather than a traditional horror film. Where I found Rec to be terrifying, I find Rec 2 to be more thrilling. Rec 2 still offers great suspense, gory visuals, and some jolting jump-scares, but it moves at a more ferocious pace and has much more action than the first. A lot of shooting, a lot of wrestling, and a lot of running. It's exciting and thrilling, and it has a scary atmosphere – so, I still count it as a horror film. But, it's different from the first. I don't find it detrimental – in fact, I think both films compliment each other well – but it is worth noting for those expecting more of the same.

The acting, although better than most horror films nowadays, is a bit more overdone this time around. The sense of panic and terror that was so masterful in the original feels louder and more unnatural this time around – especially from the teenage cast. The film looks great, though. I love the setting of this film; the claustrophobic hallways return in full force, but I enjoyed how we revisit this setting – it's a very memorable set. The shaky camera returns, and it's still better than most shaky cams we see in found-footage films nowadays. I also like the first-person perspective we see from the helmet-mounted cameras. Directing pair Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza return with a vicious action-horror movie; it's definitely less frightening than the first, but more exciting and thrilling – pick your poison.

Overall, Rec 2 is a fantastic action-horror movie. Although it's not the better film, it masterfully compliments the original film. If you love exciting and thrilling horror movies like Aliens, I think you'll love this film – well, if you can tolerate found-footage and have seen the first, of course. As a matter of fact, now that I think of it, Rec 2 is sort of the horror equivalent of The Raid. Anyway, this film sits between an 8 and 9 for me, I'll give it the benefit of a 9, though. (again)

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Film Review: [Rec] (2007)

[Rec] (Review)
Spain/2007
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (eOne Films)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a contemporary horror masterpiece."
 
Television reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo, cover the night shift at a local fire station for their series While You're Sleeping. Angela and Pablo tag along to a routine call in an apartment, which quickly spirals into madness...

[Rec] is a fairly simple story. The camera crew arrive with the firemen to find some police officers have already arrived. The call concerns an old woman's bloodcurdling screams from her apartment – most of the residents have already gathered in the main hall. However, the routine call spirals into madness when the old woman viciously bites an officer, and the occupants of the apartment complex find themselves quarantined. Much of the rest of the film follows the survivors as they try to find out why they're quarantined, find an escape route, and survive a mysterious disease. The ending is fantastic – a terrifying ending with a nice pinch of originality for the genre.

As if the film wasn't original enough already. [Rec] is a breath of fresh air for a genre that has become stale – or rather, the found-footage sub-genre of horror that has grown repetitive and boring in recent years. It's much more than a “zombie” found-footage horror movie – both in style and narrative. As simple as the story may sound, it packs plenty of surprises, plenty of character, and most certainly packs in plenty of terror. And, I'm talking pure terror.

Whether it's the claustrophobic settings, the nail-biting suspense, or the jolting jump-scares, [Rec] aims to petrify. And it succeeds tenfold. The suspense is nerve-shredding; in this case, I think the tight corridors and stairwells, as well as the found-footage style, contribute greatly to the suspense – it creates an effective cone vision that block you off from the rest and keeps you on edge. Since the suspense is very effective, this a rare case where the jump-scares are actually frightening. The visual presentation is also scary – there are some chilling visuals, including the overall design and the gore.

The acting is very impressive, especially by horror standards. By any standard, actually, the acting is great. Manuela Velasco is a great leading lady, very charismatic and genuine in emotion. In fact, the entire cast captures the sense of urgency and panic perfectly – I was panicking myself! The film is, of course, a found-footage movie. Therefore, some of the camerawork is shaky. However, I didn't find it as annoying as I usually do – I mean, it was occasionally nauseating, but it also created a sense of realism and, again, panic. Directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza are fantastic in creating pure terror. The suspense is superb, the visuals are chilling, the atmosphere is always ominous (you never feel safe), and even the jump-scares are incredibly effective.

Overall, Rec is a contemporary horror masterpiece. It was one of my favorites when it first released, and it still manages to scare me. There are some minor plot contrivances and now-cliches (I think this film is responsible for the “Record everything” cliché, due to its emphasis), but not nearly enough to hinder an otherwise perfect horror film. So, I would give this film a 9.5/10, but I only use whole numbers in my reviews, so I have to round up to a 10/10. (yeah, yeah, excuses excuses.)

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Film Review: Nightmare City (1980)

Nightmare City (Review)
Italy/Spain/1980
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"If you're looking for something to make fun of with your friends..."

As news reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) prepares for an interview with a scientist, an unmarked military plane lands and unleashes a horde of zombies.

Nightmare City is a relatively simple rehash of every zombie film known to man. Okay, this time around the zombies are treated as superhuman and like to stab their victims' throats or boobies, but everything else is very familiar. The set of character -- none of which have any distinct character -- basically fight for survival. That's it! The ending was unnecessarily stupid, too. I mean, I had a great laugh, but what was the point!

Fortunately, Nightmare City has some B-movie charm. It has the laughable dialogue and plenty of unintentional humor. Like a surgeon who throws his scalpel like a throwing knife, or all of the melodramatic deaths. It's not nearly enough to fully redeem the uneventful and occasionally boring story, but it makes the film a little more enjoyable -- something you can laugh at and have a good time. There are also some great practical gore effects, too, like some sick eye-gouging.

Aside from the boring and uneventful story, the film also feels like it takes itself way to serious. This ends up negatively effecting the B-movie charm and humor. There are scenes where it tries to talk about its themes, like mankind's self-destruction and living like machines or whatnot, but it does it without any subtly. I mean, it actually spells it out for you, like: "this is the theme of the film, thanks for watching." Unlike George A. Romero's iconic Dawn of the Dead, and others, where the theme and commentary are blended seamlessly with the film.

The acting is all-around melodramatic. I think most of the performances were actually kind of funny, to be honest. That's partly due to the actual performance, but also due to the terrible dialogue -- everyone sounds so unnatural. The music is good, but it doesn't fit the film; I'd listen to the music without the film, though. It's shot well, at least, and the camerawork is good. By B-movie standards, the film is funny and somewhat entertaining; by regular standards, director Umberto Lenzi has a big mess of a movie that lacks an eventful story and a strong, distinct vision.

Overall, Nightmare City is a mediocre zombie-horror film. It has some b-movie charm and some great unintentional humor, as well as some decent gore, but not enough to redeem the film's other shortcomings. The story is uneventful and often boring, as well as generic, there isn't any actual horror in the film, and the dialogue is terrible by any standard. If you're looking for something to make fun of with your friends, this is a satisfying time-killer; otherwise, stick to Dawn of the Dead.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and nudity.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Film Review: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Night of the Living Dead (Review)
United States/1990
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"If you can get past these characters ... you're in for a horror treat."

Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother are attacked by a zombie at a remote graveyard. Surviving the attack, Barbara stumbles across an old farmhouse...

Night of the Living Dead continues as Ben (Tony Todd) arrives at the farmhouse. The pair clear out the house of any zombies, and soon find another group of survivors in the cellar. The group decide to barricade the house until they can find the keys to the gas pump and escape. But, the clashing personalities and the difficulties of the situation make the goal seem like a dream. A very simple and straightforward story, Night of the Living Dead leads to a good ending -- it was great to a point, but it also has some issues.

There isn't much to discuss when it comes to the plot. It's a barebones zombie survival film. Fortunately, it has plenty of scares, great suspense, and many thrills. The simple story helps the film flow quickly and fluidly -- it's fast-paced and consistent without cutting any corners and without much filler. The biggest issue with the film are the characters. I should say I appreciate the mere fact that this film bothers to have character, but they ultimately become irritating and even confusing.

You have Barbara, who's hysterical at first, magically turns into Rambo minutes later, and finally hurts the ending with her hypocrisy. You have Cooper, the loudmouthed coward who ruins every plan and never stops nagging. And, you have Tom, who makes one of the stupidest choices I think I've ever seen on film. If you can get past these characters, like I did for the most part, you're in for a horror treat.

The acting is good. I like how Patricia Tallman captures hysteria with her anxious smile. Tony Todd delivers a great performance, too. The film is shot very well; it really stands the test of time, especially in high definition. (really, you should watch the HD print of this film.) The makeup is great. Although the introduction has one person with obvious makeup, the rest of the special effects are fantastic -- I love the old-school effects. Director Tom Savini does well in building suspense and horror, and he makes the film flow -- it's always moving.

Overall, Night of the Living Dead is a great zombie film. The concept and story are simple yet engaging, there is great suspense and horror, and it's very entertaining. The characters can be annoying and stupid at times, but they're tolerable for the most part. If you didn't like the original because it wasn't modern enough or you can't stand black-and-white films, this is a simple yet worthy remake.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some nudity. (there are two zombies with their buttocks exposed briefly.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Film Review: Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow (Review)
Norway/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...a dark, fun, exciting, and creative zombie movie."

A group of friends travel to a snowy cabin in the woods for Easter break. All is well until the Nazi zombies show up...

Dead Snow follows this group of friends as they vacation at the cabin. They have snowball fights, play Twister, and drink beer. An eerie stranger eventually shows up to give a history lesson on the location -- a lesson which involves Nazis and their harsh treatment of the locales during World War 2. About halfway through, the Nazi zombies make their presence known, and the group begin battling for survival. It's a very bloody and exciting climax, which leads to a predictable but great ending.

Dead Snow is a simple zombie horror film. The first half of the film focuses on the characters, some humor, and building up the climax. It's a little slow and has a handful of clichés, but it gets the job done and it gets it done well. The film explodes with a gory, unforgettable death sequence about midway through and never stops. This isn't a traditional zombie horror film, it's a dark, fun, exciting, and creative zombie movie. There isn't much too discuss really: barebones when it comes to plot but fun when it comes to the blood and gore, or at least "fun" when it comes to a horror sense. Some of the humor does fall flat, there are some pacing issues, and it often gets lost in translation. (I couldn't tell if the clichés were bad or satirical.)

The acting is good -- nothing really stood out as spectacular or terrible. The film is shot very well during the day; some of the nighttime scenes were a little too dark, though. The music was also great; I liked the soundtrack and the original score. The special effects stood out most on the technical side. It's a fantastic blend of computer graphics and practical effects, with a great use of the latter. The makeup effects really helped make this film both memorable and distinct. Director Tommy Wirkola crafts a funny and exciting zombie horror film; the humor blends in well and the gore makes this film a standout in the zombie genre.

Overall, Dead Snow is a very good zombie horror-comedy. It's not particularly terrifying, but it is very bloody and gory. Despite a few fall-flat jokes and gags, the humor was mostly hilarious, too. Definitely worth watching, especially if you're looking for something entertaining or to kill the time.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and a brief sex scene.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Film Review: Day of the Dead (2008)

Day of the Dead (Review)
United States/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...lacks confidence and seems to stray any which way."

In a small town in Colorado, a virus outbreak causes the people to turn into sprinting, leaping, and crawling zombies...

Day of the Dead mainly follows Corporal Sarah Cross (Mena Suvari) and her brother Trevor (Michael Welch). Sarah is there on duty as the town is quarantined, and Trevor just lives there. The outbreak occurs after the pair take their mother to the hospital. They end up separating, and both fight for survival at different locations. Then, they find each other and try to escape the infested town. That's about it. It begins as a barely decent film that spirals into bad territory during the final act. The ending felt very quick and underwhelming.

Day of the Dead started off promising. Now, I didn't think it was going to be spectacular or anything like that, but I thought it would at least be decent. And, it was... at least for a while. The zombies in this film are very fast and can take huge leaps -- I thought this was interesting and even made for some suspenseful scenes. The zombies also occasionally crawl on walls and ceilings, which I thought was out of place and stupid. Regardless, like I said, there is some suspense and a few thrills to be had. The film simply runs out of steam too soon and becomes more irritating as it goes on.

For example, the character clichés become more evident during the second half. The characters become stupider and more annoying during the second half, as well. And, the concept starts aiming and shooting wildly; zombies who can be controlled and super zombies -- not bad ideas on their own, but bad ideas when executed so poorly. As for the characters: you have Sarah, who is very hypocritical. You have Trevor, who leans towards douchebag territory. And, worst of all, you have soldier Salazar, who's the douchebag and wannabe gangster all-in-one -- appropriately played by Nick Cannon, if I may add. If you've read my reviews, you know I dislike most of these characters, especially when they lack charisma -- and these all do.

The acting was most detrimental for the film. Mena Suvari was decent. Michael Welch was okay. Nick Cannon was horrid, with a severe lack of charisma and fall-flat humor; not so surprisingly, his character takes a larger role during the latter half of the film, which was where the film completely fell apart. The special effects were decent; a lot of computer effects, but tolerable, especially if you know what you're getting into. (I'm more a fan of practical gore effects myself, though.) I didn't like the flashy editing, though. Director Steve Miner had the opportunity to make this remake his own and, in a way, he does -- just not in a good way.

Overall, Day of the Dead is a bad horror film. Actually, it's more of an action/horror film, but a bad one, anyway. It starts off promising, but quickly loses steam. The story lacks confidence and seems to stray any which way. It also suffers from very bad acting from Nick Cannon. The minimal thrills and suspense can't redeem this film.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Film Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead (Review)
United States/1985
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...exciting and occasionally funny."

Survivors of a zombie apocalypse find themselves in an underground military base, where scientists work to stop or cure the disease and the military provide support.

Day of the Dead mainly follows Dr. Sarah (Lori Cardille), Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), and Dr. "Frankenstein" during this process. The group of survivors bicker and argue amongst themselves and struggle to communicate. Dr. Sarah doesn't really know what she's looking for, Captain Rhodes is hardheaded and tyrannical, while Dr. "Frankenstein" spends his time conducting experiments on zombies in hopes of teaching them to behave. It's a fairly simple plot that leads to a great climax and good ending.

Day of the Dead is a little more of a blatant human drama than it is a zombie horror film. And, I don't mind. The characters are often infuriating, though. The scientists complain about communication but don't provide proof of their research, the soldiers are obnoxious and tyrannical, and the pilot and electronic specialist... well, they're really not that bad. I understand that the characters should be irritable, but these come off as annoying instead -- a pinch of charisma would've been appreciated.

Otherwise, I liked the plot. I liked the idea of the underground base and I liked the drama between the characters. I especially liked the insight into the zombies and their behaviors. Obviously this is a work of fiction, but I love when film worlds and mythologies expand, and this does just that. It's not particularly frightening or even suspenseful, but it is exciting and occasionally funny. The characters may be an issue, but I don't see many gaping flaws with the actual story.

The acting ranged from mediocre to good. Lori Cardille is good, as is Joseph Pilato. The supporting cast, particularly those that play soldiers, are way overacted; they act like cartoon characters when they laugh so hysterically and so often. The film looks nice, despite mostly being secluded to an underground base. The music was great; it feels refreshing visiting an 80s films. One of my favorite parts of the film, though, are the superb special effects; master Tom Savini once again delivers with these fascinating practical gore effects. Director and writer George A. Romero crafts an entertaining zombie drama; some of its tones are inconsistent and the characters lack a shred of charisma, but it's more than competent.

Overall, Day of the Dead is an entertaining zombie drama/horror film. The special effects are superb and the story is great and refreshing, but the characters are mediocre. The message it sends is clear, but the film doesn't really give it chance to shine. Regardless, fans of zombie films, especially those with insightful elements, will find an engaging and entertaining film.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Film Review: The Ward (2010)

The Ward (Review)
United States/2010
Format Watched For Review: Blu-ray (Arc Entertainment)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...Carpenter is still more than capable of conjuring effective suspense and horror..."
 
After burning down a farmhouse, Kristen (Amber Heard) is institutionalized and finds herself haunted by a sinister force...

The Ward follows Kristen in 1966 as she settles in at this psychiatric hospital. Kristen insists she's not crazy, but she has no recollection of the events prior to the fire. Anyway, Kristen, as well as the other patients, find themselves being haunted by a zombie-like ghost. The deeper she investigates, the more death surrounds her and the more grizzly secrets she discovers. It's a straight-forward horror film. The ending is predictable, but I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed the horror in The Ward. The film has a great focus on atmosphere and suspense. Fortunately, the film often builds up great suspense and tension. The payoff is usually a jump-scare, but don't fret, these are actually impressive. Most of the time, jump-scares just don't do it for me, but these actually gave me a jolt at least a handful of times. There are also some subtle visuals that I really enjoyed, as well, like a shadowy or ghost figure in the background – I like those little details.

I think the biggest downfall for The Ward is the acting. It's passable, especially by horror standards, but it just doesn't really bring you into this world – it doesn't help bring you to the 60s. Also, none of the cast play a believable psychiatric patient. Amber Heard is occasionally good, but whenever the role becomes demanding, she just sounds off and overacted. Otherwise, I enjoyed the cinematography and I especially enjoyed the camerawork. The music is good, too, I just wish John Carpenter got his hands dirty. On that note, John Carpenter's direction is great. Aside from the acting, Carpenter is still more than capable of conjuring effective suspense and horror, and the film is also well paced and balanced.

Overall, The Ward is a very good horror film. It's not a groundbreaking or even original film, but it's hard to find a film that's truly original nowadays, anyway. The horror, which is what I expect most will be watching for, is very good, though. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the suspense, the subtle imagery, and even the jump-scares – it's very well rounded. The acting... that's another story.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Film Review: Hatchet 3 (2013)

Hatchet 3 (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"It's good ol' gory fun."

After a massacre at Honey Island Swamp, local and state police enter the home of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) to verify Marybeth's story.

Hatchet 3 picks up where the last installment left off. After killing Victor Crowley, a bloodied Marybeth (Danielle Harris) goes to the police to report her success. So, the police head out to Honey Island Swamp. Meanwhile, journalist Amanda Fowler (Caroline Williams) drags Marybeth back to Honey Island Swamp to finish what really hasn't ended. It's a really simple plot that gets straight to the point -- it doesn't add anything to the characters or locale, but it gets straight to the mayhem. The ending is good -- it's more of the same, though, an ending we've seen time and time again.

I liked the simplicity of the story -- it gets straight to the action and horror. Sure, I would love to see some new characters and maybe some new details regarding Victor Crowley, but I'm perfectly content with a film that simply aims to entertain. And that's what this does. It's good ol' gory fun. Over-the-top violence around every corner. A couple of jolting jump-scares. Typical horror movie logic. Some very black humor. (there was at least one laugh out loud moment.) It's a throwback horror film that doesn't try to be more. If you like practical over-the-top gore, then this is for you. There's not much else to it.

Except... there is one thing I really didn't like. This ridiculously gory fun film is partly spoiled by the terribly obnoxious and annoying journalist character, Amanda. Every scene with Amanda was not only annoying, but also boring and cliché. The other characters are lively and energetic, some are even hilarious, but this one is obnoxious. Also, this time around, there doesn't seem to be a solid protagonist. Marybeth is in the film, but she shares less screen time and plays a minor role. It wasn't really something too detrimental, but it's worth noting.

The acting ranges from decent to bad. A lot of the supporting cast is bad. Danielle Harris is decent. Aside from her character being ridiculously annoying, Caroline Williams' performance is also ridiculously over-acted. Kane Hodder is always welcomed, though, as are the cameos. You see, the acting really ranges. Otherwise, the film is a standard horror film. The special effects are great; it's obviously wasn't aiming for realism, so expect some cheesy effects. The concept is familiar, but director BJ McDonnell does well in cutting any fat from the story and delivering a straight horror film.

Overall, Hatchet 3 is a good slasher movie. It's treads very familiar territory, has one terrible character, and a few dud performances, but the film never fails in delivering the over-the-top gory fun. It's an improvement over Hatchet 2, which I did not like much. Just don't expect too much, and you should have some fun.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and gore.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Film Review: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Halloween: Resurrection (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...starts off promising, but fails to deliver."

A group of college students spend a night in the childhood home of Michael Myers for an internet horror show.

Halloween: Resurrection follows this group of college students as they explore the home and try to find a reason for Michael's vicious murder spree. It mostly follows college student Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich) and the show director Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes), though. Meanwhile, some partygoers and Sara's friend Deckard watch the show during, well, a party. Eventually, Michael shows up and does what he does best. The story is cheesy yet engaging enough to make it to the end, while the ending is bad.

Halloween: Resurrection has a very interesting concept. It's a slasher with found-footage elements -- before found-footage became popular. But, a film can't live off of concept alone. Halloween: Resurrection is brought down by poor writing and bad, cliché characters -- it seems like every horror movie absolutely must have a cast of unlikable douchebags. The concept was enough to keep my attention up to the climax, but then Freddie takes up a stronger presence. At this point, I couldn't tell if I was watching a comedy or horror movie. You'll likely either hate the ending or laugh out loud at Busta Rhymes' "karate" -- but I don't think anyone can seriously enjoy it.

As for its horror, the film has some mild suspense and tension. Like I said, its enough to get the audience engaged, but it's far from nail-biting. Like many slashers, there's plenty of blood and gore to go around; some of the death scenes, although clearly not realistic, are surprisingly decent. (you can't cut off someone's head with one swipe of kitchen knife. You just can't.) There are some decent subtle scenes with Michael Myers, too, like him standing eerily in the corner of a room -- I like these types of scenes.

The film stars Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. I feel like that's all I really have to say about the acting to get my point across, but I'll elaborate, anyway. Busta Rhymes is mediocre, and his character is part of the reason the film fumbles during the end. Bianca Kajlich is competent enough, but the film tries to make her the next scream queen. Problem is: her screaming is atrocious. Jamie Lee Curtis has 15 decent minutes in this film. Everyone else is either bad or mediocre. Otherwise, the film is a standard slasher; I love the use of the iconic Halloween theme, though. Director Rick Rosenthal isn't half-bad in crafting the horror and atmosphere. The writing from Larry Brand and Sean Hood is bad, though.

Overall, Halloween: Resurrection starts off promising, but fails to deliver. It has a very interesting and refreshing concept, but it doesn't fully utilize it. It's also tainted by bad writing and Busta Rhymes. There are some decent scenes in the film, but it ultimately falls in mediocre territory.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Violence, blood, gore, and some brief nudity.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Film Review: Grave Encounters (2011)

Grave Encounters (Review)
Canada/United States/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"Good for fans of the genre, especially the setting like myself..."
 
A paranormal investigation crew, led by host Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), lock themselves in a supposedly haunted psychiatric hospital to shoot the sixth episode of their show, Grave Encounters, which turns out to be their last...

Grave Encounters is a found-footage film presented as real footage. (It's obviously not, but it wants to build that facade.) Anyway, it plays out as edited footage of the final episode of the show. So, we see Lance and the crew doing different takes of their scenes or messing around behind-the-scenes. I thought this segment was fun, it poked fun at the many paranormal investigation shows on TV and built up a decent plot. They eventually lock themselves in the hospital and start shooting the episode. Well, the hospital turns out to be actually haunted, and they find themselves trapped in an ever-changing environment. The ending was good -- not exactly surprising or exceptional, but good.

I loved the concept behind Grave Encounters, and simply liked the execution. The story and its sort-of spoof of television is great; it came off as surprisingly creative. The found-footage style works well with the plot of the film, and actually benefits some of the scares. As for the horror, the suspense was light, sometime it was even nonexistent. There are many jump-scares, I think two or three actually made me jump. The visual scares really come in towards the final 30 minutes. It's not really a very scary film, though, especially considering the weak presence of suspense and the weak jump-scares. But, at least the setting was great; I'd love to visit an abandoned hospital like this, it really is eerie and ominous.

Sean Rogerson does well as the lead -- he nails that douchey TV host persona and has some lively energy. Ashleigh Gryzko, however, really feels out of place; she's tolerable for the first half, but then her overacting becomes overwhelming; it was actually humorously bad at times, and she just doesn't really seem believable. Otherwise, the acting is just barely decent from the rest of the cast. Except for the introduction, most of the film is shot in the dark; it is hard to see what you're supposed to see, and the night vision becomes overwhelming, too. I liked some of the visual effects. The Vicious Brothers craft a decent mockumentary and capture the setting well, but the film is somewhat lacking in the horror department.

Overall, Grave Encounters is a good found-footage horror film. The story is interesting, the setting is great, and there are some decent jump-scares and visuals. But, the acting is too mediocre to feel even remotely realistic, there is a lack of horror and suspense, and the story occasionally feels uneventful. Good for fans of the genre, especially the setting like myself, and for horror fans looking to kill a night.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Film Review: The Den (2013)

The Den (Review)
United States/2013
Version Watched For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...an excellent time-killer..."

Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) receives a grant to study the people who use an online-chat website called “The Den” and stumbles upon some grizzly footage...

The Den is a straightforward found-footage horror film – it's not exactly a traditional found-footage horror film, though, as it is captured through webcams this time around. Anyway, the film begins with Elizabeth meeting the people who frequent this website, which includes some normal people and a lot of lewdness. Eventually, she witnesses a gruesome murder and becomes target to an unknown assailant – her friends also unwittingly become targets. The film keeps a creepy and realistic vibe throughout most of the film, though that vibe is lost temporarily during the final act. The ending itself is haunting, but it felt expected.

As a horror film, I think The Den does a satisfying job in creating an ominous atmosphere that is mostly grounded in reality. For the most part, if you frequent these type of chat sites, which do exist, then you've likely ran into a handful of these people; and, I think the introduction does a great job in setting that up. It also continues to build up the creep-factor by creating a subtle home invasion feeling – you know, the feeling that you are always watched, especially through the webcam you think is off. There is also some great suspense here and there, and some surprising jump-scares. Generally, the film kind of feels like a found-footage slasher – I like that, too many supernatural found-footage films nowadays.

Although The Den breaks away from many found-footage cliches, the film still opts for many general horror cliches. The characters aren't very developed and they're not very bright, either. For example, the cops seem to be completely useless in this film, as they are in many horror films. Furthermore, lead character Elizabeth isn't very likable – I noticed she calls a friend for help often, then shoves him away for no apparent reason. I think this, in turn, affects the overall immersion and realism of the film; I just didn't really root for her. Aside from the characters and the cliches, the film's latter half feels rushed and also unrealistic – at least compared to the rest of the film – kind of feels like it's throwing everything at you in a last attempt to scare and thrill.

Although I did not like her character, I think Melanie Papalia delivered a very solid performance – a little overacted here and there, but good by most horror standards. The supporting cast was also good. This is probably the least nauseating found-footage film I've ever seen; the final act becomes somewhat hectic, but most of the film was really smooth thanks to the webcam-style shooting. Writer and director Zachary Donohue has an interesting and creative concept, at least by found-footage standards, and executes it well for the most part; aside from the messy final act, I think Donohue does well in buildup and in crafting suspense, and in crafting an overall creepy atmosphere.

Overall, The Den is a good horror film. It's a simple yet engaging found-footage horror film. The suspense is good, the jump-scares are decent, and the creepy mood is well executed. (who have you been talking to?) It does fall apart a bit towards the ending, and the characters could have used some
fine-tuning, but I think The Den is an excellent time-killer – especially considering the very forgiving short runtime.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, full-nudity and sex.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Film Review: Dead Silence (2007)

Dead Silence (Review)
United States/2007
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Ais)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...some fun and exciting horror..."

The legend of Mary Shaw tells the story of a woman who will cut your tongue out if you scream when you see her in your dreams. Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) receives a ventriloquist doll that will awaken this nightmare...

Dead Silence follows Jamie after he receives a creepy ventriloquist doll named “Billy.” While Jamie is out, Billy murders his wife, leaving Jamie the sole suspect. So, Jamie tracks the doll to Mary Shaw and travels back to his hometown to solve his wife's murder and stop this onslaught of violence. Of course, he'll be followed by smart-alec cliché cop Detective Limpton (Donnie Wahlberg). I liked the climax and the ending of the film; it's a little cheap and a little unnecessary, but good, nonetheless.

Dead Silence is a straightforward and simple horror film – maybe to a fault. But I do applaud the film for going beyond the typical supernatural horror we get today. It does have a supernatural theme, in a sense, but it's not your typical ghost story. However, the story does suffer from some bland character, some disjointed storytelling, and an occasionally uneventful plot. For example, Jamie Ashen is a very simple character – so simple, he may as well not be a character at all – in other words, he's forgettable. As for storytelling, this film does not flow naturally – it feels like it jumps from scene to scene, stylishly but without any bridge.

Fortunately, Dead Silence is fun and exciting horror. Whereas films like Home Sweet Home fail miserably in using dead silence to craft suspense, Dead Silence succeeds. In fact, the film's use of silence adds to the eerie and creepy atmosphere of the film. It also gives the film a more distinct personality. Anyway, the film has some nail-biting suspense, more than a handful of jolting jump-scares, and some grizzly visuals; if you hate dolls, especially ventriloquist dolls, then this might give you nightmares. Even more fortunate: the film has a strong focus on horror – it delivers set piece after set piece – they may not be well connected and it may negatively affect the plot, but it ultimately delivers the horror goods.

The acting is okay. Ryan Kwanten isn't bad per se, but he doesn't really have the screen presence or charisma for a leading man; his safe performance adds negatively to his boring character. Mark Wahlberg Sorry, sorry, I mean Donnie Wahlberg delivers a surprisingly decent performance; I say “surprisingly” because his character his very cliché. The film is very stylish; I personally enjoyed the cinematography and lighting immensely. The music is fantastic; I loved the theme for this film, it has been one of my favorites since I first watched Dead Silence years ago. Director James Wan masterfully crafts a suspenseful horror film; the story could use some fine-tuning and the film could benefit from some better performances, but the horror is spot-on.

Overall, Dead Silence is a very good horror film. I know the story has a handful of flaws, but I genuinely enjoyed the ventriloquist doll concept and the legend of Mary Shaw the story creates. James Wan also creates more than a handful of amazing horror set pieces – some of which are in my all-time favorites. If you're looking for some fun and exciting horror, and don't mind some bland character and contrived story, this is for you.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

Film Review: Contracted (2013)

Contracted (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No
A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!*

"...Contracted is so lazy and stupid, it's rendered completely ineffective."

A victim of date rape, Samantha (Najarra Townsend) contracts an unknown disease that slowly deteriorates her...

Contracted is a fairly simple body horror film. It begins with a man named B.J. having sex with a corpse, then raping Samantha when she's drunk and drugged during a party. Samantha starts bleeding heavily; her skin develops a serious rash; her eyes become red; and, so on. She visits a doctor who is practically useless, and she also ignores any help her friends offer – well, she actually becomes angry when she's offered help or vital information. The climax is decent – it features one scene that made me gag. The ending is promising for a future sequel; unfortunately, the rest of this film didn't buildup the ending properly, so it feels rushed and farfetched.

I did not like Contracted. The story is interesting and engaging – or, I should say, the concept is interesting and engaging. Sexually transmitted diseases are frightening, and this gives us a decent idea of an STD spiraling out of control. However, the story also feels uneventful, repetitive, and illogical. I'll be blunt: Samantha is incredibly stupid and arrogant. When your body is literally falling apart, I think you should probably go to the hospital. You probably shouldn't be handling food, either. Oh, and don't get angry when your “friends” offer you help – I emphasis friends, because I don't know why anyone would be a friend of someone so rotten – literally and figuratively.

Having a character as unbelievably arrogant and stupid as Samantha really takes you out of the film. It makes the film much less realistic – it's difficult to put yourself in Samantha's shoes, or even think “what if that were to happen to me?” The only way I can see this film scaring anyone is if you would think like Samantha; that is, you'd wait a week to go the hospital after you cut off your finger because your already estranged lover might find out. If you have to question the character at every corner, that also hurts the story and the general writing. Like I said, it's an interesting and frightening concept, but Contracted is so lazy and stupid, it's rendered completely ineffective. I think I contracted stupidity from watching this film. (not really, please keep reading.)

The acting is mostly mediocre; again, this is partly due to the generic and lazy writing – every conversation sounds unrealistic and unnatural, they lack a consistent and genuine flow. Najarra Townsend is a weak leading lady, especially towards the beginning of the film – she sounds so out of place and uncomfortable. She recovers a little as the film progresses, but she's disappointing. The special effects and makeup are decent – nothing a gore-hound hasn't seen before. The film's music and cinematography are passable. Writer and director Eric England has an interesting yet familiar concept, but fails to utilize it properly; there are some interesting scenes and the film has some decent moments in general, but the characters are terribly written and the story is too reliant on the ignorance stupidity of its lead character.

Overall, Contracted is a bad film. I genuinely tried to enjoy the film, especially because the concept was creepy on its own, but it simply disappointed. I couldn't find the film scary at all. The lead character specifically is poisonous for this film – her stupid and illogical actions hurt the story and make it difficult to even suspend belief. If you're even slightly interested, I'd advise avoiding this film; if you're still interested, stream it on Netflix or any other service, but don't pay directly for it.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, sex and nudity.