Thursday, October 23, 2008

Uh, would you believe... 21 Nights of Terror?

Maybe I need to change the name of this blog to 21 Nights of Terror, because this marathon is officially over.

I made it through 21 movies in 21 nights, sometimes struggling to stay awake. When I started all of this I didn't realise how tough it would be. A movie a night - easy right? Well, as it turns out... no. Try fitting in 90 minutes to two hours of free time every night, regardless of what else is happening in your life (including working a 40-50 hour week) and regardless of how tired you are.
Anyway, enough feeling sorry for myself. Last night I decided enough was enough. Twenty one days was a damn good effort if you ask me, and I'm glad I did it. I finally got around to watching some of the movies that have been on my "to watch" list for ages, and I got to see some old favourites again.

I'm a sucker for punishment though, and I've already thought up a future method of torture. Next year my birthday falls on Friday the 13th. I've been a fan of the Friday the 13th movies since I was in my early teens. Add to that the fact that I've always wanted to do a 24-hour movie marathon (having done two separate 12-hour marathons at home - yes, I'm a geek). So, my plan is to watch all 12 Friday the 13th movies (yes, I'm including Freddy vs Jason as the 12th entry in the series) back-to-back and in order. With food and bathroom breaks I figure it'll take 24 hours (the 12 movies add up to somewhere around 19-21 hours).

I'll be watching a couple of horror flicks on Halloween night - I usually pop in either the original Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although it kind of depends on who turns up on the night. I'll probably end up reviewing whatever I watch and throwing it on here, so while the 31 Nights of Terror marathon fell a little short of the mark, it doesn't mean the end for the blog.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 21 - The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake [1959]

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
Director: Edward L Cahn
Starring: Grant Richards, Eduard Franz, Henry Daniell
Now this is the kind of old school horror that I really dig. There's just something cool about watching a decent black and white horror movie from the 50s and 60s - the kind you can imagine introduced by some kind of television ghoul. The kind where the trailer has overly dramatic music with big words like "Shocker" or "Terror" smashing into the screen.
The plot involves a family with a "curse" involving Amazon witch doctors and head shrinking. It seems ol' great-grandad killed off some tribe back in the day, and since then adult Drake men have mysteriously died on their 60th birthdays. Even more strange, their heads mysteriously disappear. Enter Jonathan Drake, whose brother dies this way, and now he's next in line. Throw in an American cop and Drake's hot daughter, who try to solve the mystery.
One of the things that surprised me about this movie was how gory it was for the time. We get beheadings, headless corpses, and not in the turn-the-camera-away style that was popular in the day. Director Cahn does a great job of building up the mystery and suspense - this reminds me of an over-long episode of The Twilight Zone. The acting is top notch, except for the guy who plays the Amazon witch doctor with his mouth sewn shut - I can't look at that guy on screen without laughing.
Overall, this is a great piece of 1950s horror. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 20 - Planet of the Vampires [1965]

Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angela Aranda

From yesterday's A Blade in the Dark, directed by Lamberto Bava, we jump today to a sci-fi horror movie directed by Lamberto's father, the legendary Mario Bava.

By 1965, Mario already had a string of successful horror movies under his belt, including Blood and Black Lace, Black Sabbath and and Black Sunday, when he turned to a mix of scifi and horror, with "Terrore nello Spazio" (Terror in Space), known in the US as Planet of the Vampires.

In the near future the two spaceships Argos and Galliot are sent to investigate the mysterious planet Aura. As the Galliot lands on the planet her crew suddenly go berserk and attack each other. The strange event passes, but the crew soon discovers the crashed Argos - and learns that her crew died fighting each other! Investigating further, the explorers come to realize the existence of a race of bodiless aliens that seek to escape from their dying world.

Despite the use of the word vampire in the title, this is more of a zombie movie, as dead rise from their graves to attack the living. Watching Planet of the Vampires, it soon becomes apparent how much this movie (along with It! The Terror From Beyond Space) influenced Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). There are a few sequences which were clearly lifted for Alien, such as when the astronauts discover the Argos and investigate.

Bava's iconic camerawork is used to full extent, along with his love of using resplendent colours, resulting in a film that is beautiful to look at but chilling at the same time, something that can't be said for many 1950s-60s scifi-horror movies.

Planet of the Vampires is an excellent little film, and one that all scifi/horror fans should check out, especially those with a love for the Alien movies (and let's face it, who doesn't?).

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 19 - A Blade in the Dark [1983]

A Blade in the Dark (1983)
Director: Lamberto Bava, Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo

Ah, the first giallo of my marathon. For those unfamilar with giallo, they're a genre of Italian horror movie popular in the 70s and 80s. They're a kind of gory crime thriller, always with a mystery killer who's revealed at the end, and are famous for stylish camera work. The most famous giallo directors were Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

A Blade in the Dark (that's the US title, the Italian one was Casa con la scala nel buio, which translates as "House of Dark Stairs") is directed by Mario Bava's son Lamberto, probably best known for his series of Demon movies.

Sadly, Lamberto's effort here doesn't measure up to that of his father or Argento. It's stylish enough, with some good suspense moments and an intriguing "whodunnit" aspect, but there's just something missing. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but A Blade in the Dark falls short of what I expect from a giallo.

This is worth watching for the giallo completist, but if you are new to the genre, look elsewhere first. Start with a classic like Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) or Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 18 - Scarecrow [2002]

Scarecrow (2002)
Director: Emmanuel Itier
Starring: Tim Young, Todd Rex, Tiffany Shepis

It finally happened. Last night I fell asleep during a movie for the first time since I started this marathon 18 days ago. That was partly due to having been up since 4am that morning, and also partly due to this movie failing to keep my interest.

Now, I quite like a good killer scarecrow movie. I enjoyed 1988's Scarecrows. I found 1995's Night of the Scarecrow watchable. Here we get a cool Scarecrow boogieman (the costume itself is top notch), above-average production values, and from what I saw, some decent kills.

What lets Scarecrow down is the abysmal script. The plot is run-of-the-mill - nerdy guy gets picked on, is killed, his soul transfers to a scarecrow and that scarecrow gets revenge against everyone who wronged him. There's potential there for a watchable low-budget slasher, but unfortunately, director Emmanuel Itier doesn't do a great job of developing it. The writers have to take some blame too, because the dialogue is terrible.

The killer scarecrow spits out one-liners and jumps around like some kind of ninja. He ends up coming across as some kind of kung fu Freddy Krueger ripoff. And what's with the "teens" in the horror movies I've been watching lately? Part of this movie is set at a high school, and I swear the "teens" there are more likely to have a mid-life crisis than teen angst. Hell, the lead guy doesn't look close to high school age.

So, I missed the end of Scarecrow, but I don't think I missed much. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17 - Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers [1988]

Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers (1988)
Director: Michael A Simpson
Starring: Pamela Springsteen, Renee Estevez, Brian Patrick Clarke

This movie - in fact this whole franchise - is one of my main guilty pleasures. Sure, I realise that they aren't exactly great movies, but there's just something about them I really enjoy.

A few years back I bought the three Sleepaway Camp movies in a swank boxset which looks like a first aid kit. I've seen all three flicks before, but until tonight hadn't cracked open the boxset. I decided to skip the first movie (1983) because it's the one I'm most familiar with, having viewed it at least half a dozen times. And no, the shock ending doesn't get any less shocking with each viewing.

The sequel joins a new summer camp, where the first movie's killer is all grown up and working as a counsellor. She's still crazy, and hates campers who do anything immorale. Naturally, they all get up to mischief, so she starts punishing (ie killing) them. 

The kills are fun - one girl gets drowned in a grotty long-drop toilet, two girls who like getting "baked" on drugs get barbecued, literally. There's even a homage to other slasher movies, when two boys dress up as Freddy from Nightmare on Elm St and Jason from Friday the 13th to try to scare the killer, but she outdos them, dressing as Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and chainsawing them to death.

I guess my enjoyment of this movie might be enhanced by the fact that I used to work at a summer camp. Not that I wanted to kill any of the campers... much. Ahem, but yeah, there's fun to be had watching this movie's kills, the 80s nostalgia (the music, the mullets galore etc) and the fact that some of the campers are played by actors closer to 30 than 13.

Interestingly, the two main leads are played by women with famous brothers. Pamela Springsteen's brother is The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, and Renee Estevez is the sister of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen.

I'll be watching Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland later in this marathon, and to say I'm pumped to hear they're making the fourth movie, Return to Sleepaway Camp, is an understatement.

October 16 - Mad Cowgirl [2006]

Mad Cowgirl (2006)
Director: Gregory Hatanaka
Starring: Sarah Lassez, James Duval, Devon Odessa

Wow, I'm not quite sure what to say about this movie.

I will say this though -'s interpretation of this as a horror movie is a loose one. It's definitely a mindf**k, and it involves some graphic-ish murders, but there's nothing really "horrific" about it. Well, except if you're a vegetarian - then you might watch from between your fingers.

Sarah Lassez plays Therese, who is diagnosed with a brain tumour (or is it Mad Cow Disease? That's never really answered). Essentially the plot follows Therese as her life falls apart. Not that she's too ordinary to start with.

The murders don't come until right at the end - the majority of the movie Therese spends her time either a) eating meat or b) having sex. And she has LOTS of sex - with a priest, with a chick, with her brother (eeeeew), with a stranger in a porn theatre, with her ex-boyfriend etc.

I think director Hatanaka was trying to show some kind of correlation between eating red meat and having sex, but it was all so vague. It's hard to tell what's reality and what's going on in Therese's increasingly-deranged mind.

Mad Cowgirl isn't a bad movie. It's got some great Tarantino-esque camera work, and Lassez is a fantastic actress. There's an almost David Lynch-like quality to it, but by the end you'll probably end up scratching your head and wondering what the point of it all was.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 15 - Axe [1977]

Axe (1977)
Director: Frederick R Friedel
Starring: Leslie Lee, Ray Green, Frederick R Friedel

Also known as California Axe Massacre and Lisa, Lisa, Axe is a 70s drive in cheapie which clearly tries to imitate successful "woman victim gets revenge" flicks like Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave. While there are a few unsettling moments in Axe, it ultimately fails to reach the level of those movies.

Three bad guys (two sadistic thugs and a "nice" guy) kill two men and torture a convenience store clerk, before finding a country home to hide out in. Living there are a disabled grandfather and his young granddaughter. They take over the home and abuse the occupants, until they discover that the girl isn't the innocent victim she seems to be.

Running at a little over an hour, Axe still seems to drag. Apart from a few graphic kills, nothing really happens. The low budget adds to the movie's grittiness, but it also hurts it, especially with the soundtrack and a couple of acting performances.

This Axe is blunt and best left in the tool shed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 14 - The Quartermass Xperiment [1955]

The Quartermass Xperiment (1955)
Director: Val Guest
Starring: Brian Donlevy, Richard Wordsworth, Margia Dean

The Quartermass Xperiment holds the prestigious position of being the very first horror/scifi movie released by legendary British studio Hammer. Director Val Guest (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, The Abominable Snowman) takes Nigel Kneale's TV series to the big screen, and succeeds in creating a chilling little movie.

Obviously by today's standards this movie is quite tame, with most of the kills happening offscreen and not much in the way of bloodshed. But that actually works in the movie's favour, as it concentrates instead on slowly building suspense and horror.

Three astronauts blast into space and crash back to earth - but two of them are missing. The third one (Richard Wordsworth) survives but starts to change as he recovers, slowly being taken over by some unseen alien presence. Wordsworth is great in working with just a few words of dialogue, using his facial expressions to show his transformation from man to beast. The Quartermass of the title is Professor Bernard Quartermass, the scientist who investigates all these goings on.

The Quartermass Xperiment is all about mood and atmosphere. It's a fantastic piece of 50s scifi-horror, and I look forward to checking out the sequels, Quartermass 2 (1957) and Quartermass and the Pit (1967).

Monday, October 13, 2008

October 12 - New Blood [2002]

Hyn huet ching nin (aka New Blood) (2002)
Director: Pou-Soi Cheang
Starring: Bernard Chow, Niki Chow, Winnie Leung

A few years back I got caught up in the fad that was J-Horror (Japanese Horror). I enjoyed the Ring series, the Ju-On series, and stand-alones like Dark Water. I also enjoyed a bit of K-Horror (Korean Horror), in the extremely good The Eye. After a while the genre got a bit boring and repetitive, but before I got to that point I bought New Blood on DVD.

Years have gone by with New Blood sitting on my shelf, until tonight. That's what this marathon is all about after all - watching movies I've been meaning to see but haven't gotten around to popping into the ol' DVD player. And you know what? All along I assumed this movie was J-Horror, but it's not - it's from Hong Kong, which I guess makes it C-Horror.

Don't be fooled though, this isn't like any Chinese horror I've ever seen. It doesn't have the comedy of Bio-Zombie or the blood and guts of Dr Lamb. In fact, it's clearly a rip off of J-Horror, as it steals many of the elements of that sub-genre - a vengeful ghost, a spooky apartment building and lots of quick-flash scares. Thankfully the ghost doesn't have long black hair (which has been done to death) - in fact, she's completely bald!

There was enough in New Blood to keep me interested, not least of all the extremely hot Niki Chow, but if you've seen any of the main J-Horror movies, there's nothing new here. There's a twist at the end, but even that's not very startling.

If you want to see a good example of this sub-genre, choose Ju-On or Dark Water (not the US remake, avoid that like the plague). New Blood is definitely only for the completist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 12 - True Blood [2008]

True Blood (2008)
Starring: Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley

Okay, so I got busy today and didn't really have time tonight to sit down and watch a full-length movie. Instead I decided to watch the first episode of a new horror TV series I've been meaning to view. It's called True Blood, and hasn't been shown here in NZ yet, but five episodes have shown in the US so far.

From the creator of Six Feet Under (a series I haven't seen, but have heard good things about), True Blood is based on the vampire novels of Charlaine Harris. I haven't read any of the books, so have no bias going in. Kiwi actress Anna Paquin plays Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a smalltown bar/diner in rural Louisiana. Oh yeah, she can read people's minds, and vampires walk among society, having "come out of the coffin" about two years prior.

The first episode naturally spends time setting up the characters - Sookie, her best friend Tara, brother Jason, her workmates at the bar... and Bill, a vampire she meets at work one night, and who she saves from a couple of redneck "vampire drainers". She falls madly in love with Bill, despite the objections of just about everyone in town.

You see, vampires are a normal part of the world now, but in rural Louisiana they're still a novelty. True Blood draws a nice little parallel between southerners' attitudes to minority races, and southerners' attitudes to these vampires. Sookie is about the only one not willing to judge Bill by what makes him different.

Because True Blood shows on HBO in the US, more blood and nudity is allowed than if it was a network TV show. This is no Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the first episode there's a few instances of nudity, some kinky sex and a smattering of swearwords. I've got to say I was surprised with how little blood and guts there was (this is a vampire series after all), but then again no one died onscreen, so I'll hold judgement until the series really gets going.

Paquin does a nice job as Sookie, putting on her best southern accent. Stephen Moyer is suitably brooding and mysterious as Bill the vampire, and ironically Australian Ryan Kwanten (formerly of Home and Away, according to IMDB) plays Sookie's brother Jason. About the only acting that I didn't like was that of Rutina Wesley, who plays Sookie's best friend Tara. That might not be completely Wesley's fault though, as the character is a cookie-cutter stereotype. Shame on the writers.

Overall I quite enjoyed the first episode of True Blood and will be watching the rest of the season as it unfolds.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October 11 - Dr Chopper [2005]

Dr Chopper (2005)
Director: Lewis Shoenbrun
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Ed Brigadier, Robert Adamson

How often have I been fooled by an appealing DVD cover?

I always do some research before watching a movie, so I knew to expect a B-grade, straight-to-video cheapie going into Dr Chopper. Cheaply made movies can be fun, and they can be good. But only if they have a goodish plot, a sprinkling of T&A, an interesting killer/monster and some half decent kills/gore. The acting doesn't have to be Oscar-worthy, but should at least be above porn level.

Dr Chopper has an interesting-enough killer (Dr Chopper), an 87-year-old former plastic surgeon who kills young people and uses their bodyparts to keep himself alive. The plot isn't terrible - in fact, it has quite a nice twist towards the end. There's also enough T&A to keep things interesting.

My biggest complaint is the kills are pretty weak, and the dialogue is cringeworthy (I actually laughed out loud a few times at how bad it was, like when the male lead lovingly tells his girlfriend "you turn my tears to wine". She could make a fortune!). The acting is about what you'd expect for a no-budget movie like this - ranging from porn-level bad to above-average, the latter coming from Costas Mandylor (Saw III, IV and V), who is the only actual Hollywood actor involved in Dr Chopper.

Is it a good movie? Uh, no. Is it watchable? Well, that depends on your standards I guess. Dr Chopper would probably be best viewed by a group of friends having some drinks and looking for some laughs.

October 10 - The Mist [2007]

The Mist (2007)
Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden

The wife and I had company again last night, so again I went for something mainstream. Like Cloverfield earlier in the marathon, The Mist is a movie I've seen in a subpar format but haven't gotten around to watching on DVD. 

I have to make it clear that I'm an unashamed Stephen King geek. I've read everything he's ever written, and I've even had my photo taken outside his house in Bangor, Maine (wow, that made me sound like a stalker). So naturally I've got something of a bias when it comes to movie adaptions of his work, although I'm not as hard to please as most King fans.

The Mist is an adaption of a Stephen King novella (part of the collection The Skeleton Crew), directed by the awesome Frank Darabont. While there have been many crappy movie adaptions of King stories, prior to The Mist Darabont had already directed two top notch adaptions - The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

With The Mist, Darabont combines the depth of character from his two earlier King adaptions with horror in the vein of author HP Lovecraft. Like the novella, it tells the story of a group of people stuck in a supermarket as a mysterious mist rolls over their small town. They're trapped because people keep getting killed if they go into the mist... and then the monsters start to attack.

It would be easy to call The Mist a monster flick, because it contains all sorts of nasty creatures, but at its essence this movie is all about how different people react to adversity. Some choose logic over reality, refusing to admit what they see, while others look to a higher power for answers. Marcia Gay Harden is incredible here as religious nutter Mrs Carmody, who manages to convince some of the survivors that what they're experiencing is the Apocalypse. The way Mrs Carmody's followers become almost animalistic in their actions brings to mind the classic book/movie Lord of the Flies.

The special effects are sometimes impressive, sometimes average. The acting is great - Thomas Jane (The Punisher) is strong as the male antagonist, Harden (Mystic River) is extremely creepy and insane, and William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) does another good job for Darabont as a hick.

My only real gripe with the movie version of The Mist is the ending. It takes a lot to shock me these days, but I can honestly say the ending to this movie shocked me. Still, I would have preferred it if the movie ended at the same point as the novella - the tacked on stuff is unnecessary.

The ending aside, I thoroughly enjoyed The Mist. It's not the greatest Stephen King adaption (that would be Stand By Me), and I wouldn't rate it as highly as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Shining or The Stand. But it's miles ahead of most of the crappy King adaptions out there, and is a very good movie in its own right.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

October 9 - Monster from a Prehistoric Planet [1967]

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (1967)
Director: Haruyasu Noguchi
Starring: Tamio Kawaji, Yoko Yamamoto, Yuji Okada

I've been trying to mix up the sub-genres during this marathon, and tonight I went for something a little lighter in style.

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is the US release of the Japanese monster movie Daikyoju Gappa, with over-dubbed American voices, and is similar to the famous series of Gojira (Godzilla) movies.

Scientists travel to a south sea island full of grass-skirt wearing natives (Japanese actors with blackface makeup on - how unPC!) and discover a giant egg, which hatches into a creature that's  part lizard, part bird. They take this creature back to Tokyo, but its parents soon come looking for it... and that's when the fun begins. 

Let's face it - the only real appeal of these movies is the laughable over-dubbing and the scenes of stunt men in big rubber suits smashing over cityscapes. Here you get the giant lizard-bird things tearing up Tokyo, the army firing rockets at them, the monsters shooting down jetplanes with mouth-beams... pretty standard fare for these kinds of movies.

These movies only appeal to a certain type of fan, and while I wouldn't count myself as a true fan of Godzilla-type movies, I quite like watching them every now and then for a good laugh.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October 8 - Blood from the Mummy's Tomb [1971]

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)
Director: Seth Holt
Starring: Valerie Leon, James Villiers, Andrew Keir

Based on Bram Stoker's novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this was the last mummy movie produced by Britain's legendary Hammer Studios. Well, I use the term "mummy" rather loosely, since there's no Egyptian mummy in this movie. It's actually about a reincarnated Egyptian princess.

By 1971, England's Hammer Studios was in sharp decline. The horror movie scene had changed a lot since the studio's heyday of the 50s and 60s, and its traditional gothic period pieces were no longer in vogue. So gone are the Hammer regulars like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and so are the period costumes and sets.

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb is set in contemporary times (1971), and tells a tale of reincarnation, Egyptian curses and murder. All the murders involve ripped throats, which gets old pretty quick, and there's way too much convoluted dialogue about Egyptian bollocks. It's all a bit wordy really.

Valerie Leon, best known for her work in a string of Carry On movies, is one hot babe, and she gets into various degrees of undress in her duel roles. The rest of the cast do an alright job, although bad guy James Villiers has a highly-annoying "pip pip, jolly good show" British accent.

All in all, this movie isn't terrible, but shows the decline of Hammer Studios in the early 70s, failing to live up to the level of earlier classics like the Quartermass trilogy or its Dracula and Frankenstein movies. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October 7 - The Prowler [1981]

The Prowler (1981)
Director: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Farley Granger

The Prowler is one of those movies I've heard mentioned favourably a lot among horrorphile circles, but which I've just never gotten around to watching. It's an effective slasher from 1981. Same year and same genre as Graduation Day, which I watched a few nights back, but The Prowler leaves that movie for dead, if you'll excuse the pun.

The storyline starts out with a murder at a graduation dance in 1945, then jumps forward to 1980, where the first graduation dance since that fateful night is about to take place. A murderer dressed from head to toe in army gear (complete with helmet and full face mask) goes on a rampage, killing teens in a number of inventive ways. Could it be the same guy from 35 years ago or a new maniac?

Now, The Prowler is no classic, but it's an effective and entertaining slasher. What really stands out from the million other slasher flicks from the late 70s and early 80s is its gore. The blood is splashed thick and fast, with the murderer using a pitchfork, knife and shotgun to good effect. A couple of the kills are extremely gory - one with a knife through the top of the head is especially cringeworthy. No surprise then that the incomparable Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead etc) was responsible for the special effects.

Sometimes actors remind me of other actors, and that happened here with the two leads. Christopher Goutman, who plays the Deputy, bore an uncanny resemblence to Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), while female lead Vicky Dawson reminded me a lot of Amy Steel from Friday the 13th part 2 (which coincidentally came out the same year as The Prowler).

The Prowler definitely gets a thumbs up from me, and while it doesn't rate up there with my favourite slashers, like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Black Christmas, it definitely comes close.

Monday, October 6, 2008

October 6 - Bloodmonkey [2007]

Bloodmonkey (2007)
Director: Robert Young
Starring: F Murray Abraham, Matt Ryan, Amy Manson

Quite often my enjoyment of a horror movie depends on my expectations going into it. I knew going into Bloodmonkey that it had been produced partly by SciFi Network (a US science fiction channel), and I've seen quite a few SciFi Network flicks, so I knew what to expect.

In my experience, having SciFi Network attached to a movie means several things:
- No nudity
- Very little in the way of gore
- Crappy CGI
- Usually one "big name" attached (in this case Oscar winner F Murray Abraham, who won his statue for 1984's Amadeus)

That was what I expected, and Bloodmonkey didn't let me down. Tonight I was in the mood for something craptacular, and this movie delivered. It follows a group of anthropology students who venture into the jungles of Thailand on what they think is a nice little fieldtrip. Instead, they end up being used by an evil scientist guy (Abraham) as bait to lure out an undiscovered species of giant, intelligent and altogether angry apes.

Yup, I said apes. Not monkeys, so the title's a little misleading. This movie - part of the Maneater Series - conforms to a few more conventions of this kind of creature feature. For instance, the young people all fit stereotypes (hot blonde, geek, jock, shy person, practical joker etc). Throw in a few instances of shaky cam, which seems to be all the rage, and you've got yourself a very, very cliched movie. 

Still, if you know what to expect going in, you might actually find Bloodmonkey a somewhat-enjoyable time waster. The CGI is pretty bad, but at least they keep the "monkeys" off-screen for the most part. 

Oh, and I can't finish without mentioning one scene that provided some unintentional laughs. All I'm going to say is it involves apes pissing with the strength of a firehose. 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October 5 - Indestructible Man [1956]

Indestructible Man (1956)
Director: Jack Pollexfan
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Max Showalter, Marian Carr

I'm busy tonight, so watched today's movie in early-afternoon. I wanted something suitable for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and settled on the oldest movie of the marathon so far, a 1956 scifi-horror starring silver screen legend Lon Chaney Jr.

By Indestructible Man, Chaney was a decade past his prime (playing The Wolfman in a string of 1940s Universal movies), but still capable of putting on a good performance. Not that he has much chance to here - he has a few lines early in the movie and is mute beyond that. 

Chaney plays a crook set up and sentenced to death. His dead body ends up in the hands of a scientist, who pumps his body with 300,000 volts of electricity. Before you can say "he's alive!", well... uh... he's alive. And, as you'd probably guess from the movie's title, he's now indestructible. As in bulletproof. He's also hellbent on getting some revenge on the nogoodniks who set him up.

Trying to stop the indestructible man are a detective by the name of Dick Chasen (sounds like what a woman of loose morales might get up to on a Saturday night), and a burlesque dancer. The detective is played by Max Showalter, whose career highpoint was no doubt playing Grandpa Fred in 1984's Sixteen Candles, sharing scenes with Long Duck Dong.

Indestructible Man has an element of science gone wrong, and there's plenty of killing, but the overall vibe isn't horror, or even science fiction, but film noir. It's essentially a crime thriller, with narration lifted straight out of a pulp detective flick.

I'm a lot more forgiving of movies from the 50s and 60s, because I enjoy their charm and naivete. That being said, this movie isn't very exciting. The acting's not bad, but the "special effects" amount to closeups of Chaney's squinting eyes when he gets angry. I mean, come on, the guy was zapped with 300,000 volts! At least give him some lightning bolts or something.

Like most scifi or horror movies from the 1950s, you can't go into Indestructible Man expecting anything too scary. But as a timewaster on a lazy Sunday, it did just nicely. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

October 4 - Graduation Day [1981]

Graduation Day (1981)
Director: Herb Freed
Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, Michael Pataki

After yesterday's crapfest, you can imagine how I felt when I started watching Graduation Day and saw Christopher George's name flash up in the opening credits. But luckily, unlike his lead role in Grizzly, George doesn't spend a lot of time onscreen in this early 80s slasher.

Wait, is this a slasher? Does it meet the criteria of the genre?
Teens having sex in the bushes? Check.
Mysterious killer knocking off said teens? Check.
Nubile young ladies getting their tops off? Check.
Terrible acting? Check.

Hmmm, I guess it is a slasher. But not a good one. I'm a fan of good slashers, and it's an undemanding niche, but this one's just too plodding, the acting's just too amateur and the kills (the highpoint of any slasher) are largely bloodless and unimaginative (bar two, which are quite innovative, involving a football and a pole vault). Oh, and try not to laugh as the damsel in distress "fights" off the bad guy in the big climax. 

Graduation Day doesn't look dated at all. Well, except for all of the fashion (especially the truck driver's sexy silk scarf early on)... and the tragic disco music playing over the opening credits... and the roller disco... Okay, so maybe it is obvious that this movie is from sometime around the late 70s or early 80s.

In the world of slasher flicks, Graduation Day is well down the list. It doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as slashers like Friday the 13th, Black Christmas or Happy Birthday to Me... but then again I've seen a lot worse. Graduation Day is watchable, barely. 

Horror geeks will enjoy seeing Scream Queen Linnea Quigley in an early role, but there's nothing here to push this movie above the dozens of cheap slashers churned out in the 80s, riding on the coattails of Friday the 13th's success.

Friday, October 3, 2008

October 3 - Grizzly [1976]

Grizzly (1976)
Director: William Girdler
Starring: Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Prine

After a couple of recent movies to kick off this marathon, we move into the 1970s for tonight's viewing.

Grizzly is a movie I've seen a few scenes from. Years ago I hired it out on VHS and put it on in the background of a Halloween party, but only saw a handful of scenes before the cloud of drunkenness took over. Now I own it on DVD, so it's time to finally watch this "classic" from start to finish.

How to sum up Grizzly? Well, it's essentially a Jaws rip-off, with a big ass bear taking the place of the shark. This movie came out a year after Spielberg's classic nature-run-amok flick, and tries to copy its success. Does it succeed? Well, no. Director William Girdler (who helmed other horror shlockers like Day of the Animals and Asylum of Satan before kicking the bucket at the ripe old age of 41) is no Spielberg. Ironically, Girdler died in a copter crash, and a helicopter features prominently in Grizzly.

The plot has a 18-foot, 3000-pound Grizzly running wild in a packed national park, gobbling up campers and hunters like a fat guy with a plate of cocktail sausages. Girdler tries his best to keep Evil Yogi off-screen for most of the movie, using point of view shots and the odd flash of a trained bear. But when he does show the bear in full... well, it looks a trained bear. Not very scary. Neither is the music, which sounds like it was lifted out of an episode of Wide World of Disney.

The kills are pretty pathetic, with not-very-convincing blood and guts. The acting isn't terrible... well, except for the girl in the opening kill sequence who sees her friend get chomped up by Big Bad Booboo and shows about as much emotion as if she'd just stepped in dog crap. The leads are adequate, Christopher George doing a good job as the park ranger who cares (sadly he doesn't tell off any bears for stealing pic-a-nic baskets).

This isn't a good movie, and it's not quite cheesy enough to get to so-bad-it's-good level. But there is some unintentional humour to be found. Be amazed by the 18-foot-tall, 3000-pound grizzly bear who can sneak up on people in the woods without making a sound! He's Ninja Bear!

William Girdler set out to make Jaws-in-the-Forest. He ended up making the cinematic equivalent of what a bear leaves in the forest after gorging on berries and wayward squirrels. Don't try to watch this late at night either, or you could end up trying to fight the sweet, sweet embrace of sleepytime. Not fun.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

October 2 - Dawn of the Dead [2004]

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Director: Zach Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Pfiher

Originally I had planned to watch the 1932 Universal classic The Mummy tonight. But my wife and a friend of hers wanted to join in the marathon tonight, so I decided on something a bit more modern and mainstream. I've moved The Mummy to later on in the month.

Dawn of the Dead is another movie I've seen a poor quality version of, but up until tonight hadn't seen on DVD, despite owning the disk. Let me just start off by saying I absolutely adore George Romero's originally Dead trilogy, and am for the most part not a fan of remakes. But I'm also willing to give most movies a chance, and generally enjoyed Zach Snyder's remake of Romero's 1978 classic.

In fact, I hardly consider this a remake at all. About the only things identical between the two movies are the name and the general premise of a bunch of people trapped in a mall, surrounded by zombies. The characters are different and the plot differs a great deal, so I like to think of this Dawn of the Dead as a continuation of the original trilogy, rather than a rehash.

The Good: 
- Zach Snyder (the director of probably my favourite movie of 2007, 300) sure knows how to shoot some stunning visuals, and throws in plenty of slow-motion, close ups and other tricks. 
- Snyder doesn't spare the gore, which is ultra important for a zombie flick. 
- I love the pre-credits shot of the woman driving her car through her neighbourhood as it becomes obvious the world has turned to crap. 
- Three words: Zombie freakin' baby!
- Gotta dig that lounge music version of "Down by the Sickness" by Disturbed.
- Ving Rhames is just a badass.

The Bad: 
- The female lead, Sarah Polley, just doesn't give her character any kind of strong presence.
- A few things defy logic. Like how did they automatically know which boat was Steve's? 
- Like most modern horror movies, it's all about the action and not so much about the characters. I genuinely cared about the characters in the 1978 original, so cared if they died or not. Here, not really.

Neither Good nor Bad: 
- I'm not too sure how I feel about the fast-moving zombies. Initially, having grown up with slow-moving zombies, I hated this new twist, but now I'm sitting on the fence about it. 

The Dawn of the Dead remake is an adrenaline ride. It doesn't compare at all favourably with the original, but if, like me, you can put that aside, the result is a stylish, fast-paced modern horror flick.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1 - Cloverfield [2008]

Cloverfield (2008)
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, TJ Miller

The 31 Nights of Terror is underway!

Most of the movies I'll be watching over the next month will be movies that I haven't seen before, but I've also thrown in a few that I have seen before, which I own on DVD but haven't watched on DVD in my home theatre.

For example, the first offering of this movie marathon, Cloverfield. I've seen this movie on... let's say, a format I acquired from "alternative means". I enjoyed the movie and so bought it on DVD while I was in the US earlier this year, the day it was released. I just haven't gotten around to watching the DVD.

Until tonight that was. And let's just say seeing this film on my 100-inch screen, in surround sound, was a whole new experience. I liked this movie before, but enjoyed it a whole lot more tonight.

I'm an unashamed fan of 1950s and 1960s sci fi horror, particularly the monster movies. I also enjoy the "handicam" horror movies like Blair Witch Project. Cloverfield combines both of those genres extremely well. All of the footage is, from a storyline point of view, handicam footage shot by an ordinary Joe Citizen as New York City is attacked by... well, something big, ugly and pissed off. Some people don't like the "handicam" aspect, but for me it adds a degree of realism and immediately helps the viewer become "part" of what's happening. 

This past weekend I saw [REC] at the movies, and it uses the same mechanism very well. Cloverfield isn't as downright scary as [REC], but has an overall sense of dread and terror, and throws in a few great fright moments. It also succeeds in keeping the "monster" well hidden for most of the movie, showing only peeks of it until the end. And when we do get a lingering, full-frame shot of it, the effect is downright impressive.

The number one thing that ruins most modern horror movies for me is CGI, or more specifically bad CGI. I'm not completely opposed to computer graphics, in fact I support them when they're done well. Luckily that's the case with Cloverfield. The monster effects are extremely believable. If there's anywhere you want to see good CGI it's in a monster movie. Where bad CGI can immediatedly kill the viewer's suspense of disbelief, in this case I found myself completely caught up in the moment from start to finish.

The first part of the movie does a barely adequate job of building up the characters. I didn't find myself too attached to them, but there was some sympathy for their plight. Male lead Michael Stahl-David is likeable enough, even if he does remind me a lot of Tom Cruise, while the ladies are all attractive and fair actors. TJ Miller's "Hud" provides the comedy and does it well. My favourite line: "I just can't stop thinking how scary it'd be if a flaming homeless dude came running out". 

Let's face it though, this is a monster movie, not a character study. It's all about the monsters and the complete state of chaos they cause. And lucky for us, they cause plenty of it.

Cloverfield is one of my favourite movies of 2008, and will remain a favourite in my DVD collection.