Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Evil Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A famous rock icon is harassed by a mysterious killer as they count down the new year with blood!

Review: Although I mentioned how cool it would be, this film does not have any connection to "Christmas Evil," but I figured this would be the best way to close out the year nonetheless. I suppose you could lump this in with the hundreds of "Halloween" clones during the early '80s era, but surprisingly this film has a unique approach to the killer, and his motive, you don't see too often. If it weren't for the near-unbearable levels of stupidity that comprise the majority of the story, you might even say this were an original movie; in fact, had the plot only centered around the killer in an almost point-of-view style descent into madness this would be badass. Instead, we get a "hot" chick who looks like a clown, punk rockers that confuse zombie-esque swaying for dancing, and some kind of in-film gag about nervous diarrhea (oh I wish I were making that up).

Listen--do you hear that? It's the sweet sound of a song exclusively made based on the title of the film! You know you're in for an interesting ride when they can't even wait until the end credits for their piece of shit song about "New Year's Evil." So the heart of the story is that some clown-makeup-wearing woman dubbed, Blaze, is launching a big New Year punk rock party with the impressive likes of whoever the fuck "Shadow" is/are; Blaze is allegedly popular, but the movie doesn't really present this notion. The idea is that they will be celebrating all night long with the multiple midnight countdowns across the USA's time zones: starting with the East coast and working back to the West where Blaze is burning (yeah, I went there) up the stage. Since this needs to be as cornball as possible, Blaze has a call-in number so you to her...I guess. Of course when you set the stage for shenanigans, shenanigans is what you will get as a crazed caller proclaims he will murder someone during each New Year countdown with Blaze being his final victim. Things actually get a bit interesting at this point since a few abnormal events occur atypical to this kind of slasher: for one, the killer uses a voice changer like Ghostface, we see his face the whole film long, and he's a devious and clever bastard. It's pretty cool, because instead of trying to guess who the killer could be, this film wants us to figure out what's his connection to Blaze (although, personally I'd want to kill Blaze just for calling herself Blaze but that's me). A large chunk of the film deals with the killer trying to get his victims isolated at the right moments and his struggles along the way; we are given a glimpse inside the manipulative abilities of the killer with a borderline, realistic approach to the scenarios. This could have really worked and played with some creative ideas, but everything feels halfhearted since we keep cutting back to Blaze, Blaze's emo-forerunner son, idiotic cops, those retarded, zombie-like extras, and one aneurysm-inducing song after another.

Why couldn't this film simply gain clarity and focus on the killer or go into whodunnit territory? In my mind I picture this visceral, disturbing look inside the mind of the killer as he stalks his prey in the night. I'd have completely different angles and shots to enhance his madness with way more emphasis on seeing his reactions to the kills with the added bonus of a worthy musical score, but this film does not deliver that level of execution. After a night of mayhem, the killer's plan slowly unravels as he's reduced to moving on foot and luckily taking advantage of moronic cops. It sucks because the last victim before Blaze was meant to be some nun, and we never learn why she was on his list; the killer even had a priest outfit and everything! The killer manages to sneak inside Blaze's hotel where we learn his identity is that of her husband, Richard. Oh shit! As for the killer's motive, he simply hates women--that's it. It's sort of brilliant in its simplicity and realism, if you think about it, and matches up with the serial killers of the day that were the obvious inspiration. Richard explains all the things women do, say, and the way they are, and it's kind of hard to argue with him on a lot of points, but he is mostly projecting Blaze onto other women and Blaze is a bitch (enjoy that run-on sentence?). What I also liked was that Richard acknowledged how Blaze's actions have affected their son and their relationship as father and son which most movies would never even bother with. With a few witty lines under his belt, Richard then sets up Blaze to have a gruesome death involving an elevator, but the police stop him in a weak shoot-out. Richard then jumps off the roof of the hotel, committing suicide, in yet another surprise choice when typically it would be Blaze to save the day or some dumb shit. The film ends with Blaze being taken away in an ambulance with the son now wearing the mask Richard had used briefly implying he will finish what his father started.

I want to like this film, because I feel like I know what the creators were going for, but there are too many stupid moments such as: the random biker gang, easily duped imbeciles that felt like contrivances, lots of padding and filler, bouts of bad acting and dialogue, Blaze's makeup, Shadow, the punk rockers, the laughable "dancing," the shitty music, the switch blade fetish, the cheesy nature of everything, and Blaze presented as being "hot" while not dying was unforgivable! At the same time, the film presented a unique take on the killer while simultaneously feeling real with some cool tactics, an interesting scheme, and a decent and believable motive. I think I'm going to have to declare this one only for horror fans who are used to these zany antics with bad '80s clothes, hair styles, and uses-the-title soundtracks. There are simply too many bad moments accompanied by a general sense of pointlessness to it all that will turn off a casual viewer. What a shame too, because this movie had a fair amount of potential to explore.

Notable Moment: When Richard tells Blaze, "I can hear your heart beating--I don't like that." What a great line. I'm still laughing over it.

Final Rating: 5/10

P2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An obsessed parking lot attendant takes a workaholic hostage on Christmas Eve.

Review: It's a little late, but just consider this a last minute Christmas gift, or, in the case of this movie, leftovers. Seriously, what kind of name is "P2?" I guess it's the Christmas theme that's throwing me off, because it feels like it needs a more holiday inspired title. My theory is that this is the unofficial sequel to "American Beauty" since it stars Wes "plastic bag" Bentley as the stalker. Now before you go thinking I'm merely joking, hear me out on this one. After the events of AB, Ricky and Jane claimed they were going to move to New York City where supposedly drug dealers could help them out. Where does "P2" take place? Yup, NYC. I suspect while unable to compete with the city's drug gangs, Ricky gets a job as a parking lot attendant under the name of Tom: this film's stalker; he might not even be named Tom since there's no way to confirm this. I propose that Jane and Ricky split apart, because Jane could not cope with her father's death and maybe partly blamed Ricky. Given the way Ricky was obsessed with Jane, how would that affect him if they broke up? Maybe Ricky killed her since he couldn't let her go. Tom has an obsessive personality and is willing to go to psychotic lengths to get his girl; sounds a lot like Ricky, huh? Now this is where things get interesting. This film's lead, Angela, looks and has the same name as Jane's best friend in AB! Maybe Ricky always did have a thing for AB's Angela and so he has fixated on a new replacement. This film's Tom acts in the same way as Ricky, and it's not much of a stretch to see their similar personalities and obsessive-like behavior. Now the real kickers are the fact that Tom records this Angela on video the same way Ricky would, and, best for last, the first thing Tom gives Angela is a rose which is the primary image of AB! IT ALL ADDS UP!!! Or...maybe I've been watching too many movies...

This is that kind of movie you watch once, don't hate but don't necessarily love, and then forget all about its existence until someone like me reviews it. There are plenty of good things going on here though, like the Christmasy feel is commendable considering the majority of the action takes place in an underground parking lot. The usage of the Christmas music does actually enhance a lot of scenes, and I like a lot of the offbeat choices. Mr. Bentley does a good job bringing to life a believably insane stalker with his especially cold eyes. Angela, played by cleavage--I mean Rachel Nichols, is not a well-developed character, but Ms. Nichols does her best to work with the material and bring a little personality to the role. Since this is essentially a film with only two players, the dynamics between Angela and Tom are adequate as they clash. The pacing is maybe the best element as we jump from one scenario to the next never leaving the audience bored with a fairly short film. There were a few general nuances I felt were interesting like Tom dressing Angela up in the dress, Tom giving Angela a chance to spend time with him nicely, and Angela always trying to talk her way out of situations. Lastly, did I mention that cleavage?! On the other hand, there's really nothing we haven't seen a thousand times before. We never learn why Tom is so obsessed with Angela nor do we get an inference on whether he's done this before considering how planned out this scheme appears to be. Speaking of which, had Angela gone along willingly, Tom would have killed a few people for nothing or are we to believe he set the whole thing into motion in the short period she was unconscious? There are supposed to be slasher-esque elements, but they are way too spread out and feel contrived although Angela's boss/coworker/whatever's death was especially gory. Everything else is mostly just acceptable or mediocre--not really hindering or helping the movie one way or another.

I would say this is that kind of Christmas horror film you watch when you're running out of ideas or tired of the endless array of killer santas. There are some good moments, and it is an above average film overall, but it lacks some kind of added oomph to make it worthwhile. Obviously if you're a fan of either Ms. Nichols or Mr. Bentley this is a must watch since they are basically the only actors involved. I'm going to say this is worth a viewing, but it helps if you're already feeling festive and realize this is more of a thriller with light horror and Christmas elements.

Notable Moment: When Angela is calling for help but some homeless person starts imitating her. What the hell was that all about? So random and yet such a contrivance.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Carol (1999) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Charles Dickens' timeless tale of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by three ghosts one Christmas Eve.

Review: Of all the holiday themed books, movies, songs, etc. in existence, nothing embodies the message and visage of Christmas more to me than the immortal classic, "A Christmas Carol." There's just something so mesmerizing and unforgettable about the tale that draws me in no matter what shape or form the story takes. The messages, themes, imagery, characters, dialogue, and creativity that form the story are perfect and touch a certain chord with the audience like nothing else. Everything about the story works perfectly and leaves the audience with great introspection as well as reflection in the same manner Scrooge experiences. There is a beauty to the imagination involved in structuring the story and even though the tale is celebrating its 170th year of nonstop publication, it still holds relevance and can be easily relatable to anyone. However, with literally hundreds of iterations, how does one determine the best medium besides the original novella? For me, the definitive adaptation of the story is this made-for-TV film starring none other than Patrick Stewart as Scrooge himself. This film captures the story accurately while instilling a tone that matches up with how I envision the story as I read it. Furthermore, that somber tone is provided while enhancing the triumphant redemption of Scrooge by the end--properly engaging the audience like few other variations can.

Since I think it's safe to say everyone is familiar with the storyline here, I will simply delve into what makes this adaptation better than all the others. First and foremost, the look and atmosphere are spot on; the Victorian England vibe is strong and the side effects to industrialization are ever present with high production values. There is elegance to the set designs and lighting choices that establishes a strong tone from the onset. That wet, wintery look feels so dreary, which mirrors the cold heart of Scrooge, works so well when contrasted to the bright, snowy look by the end once Scrooge is redeemed. There is this overpowering sense of misery, dread, and suffering present throughout the film as you feel the harshness of the time period and the sheer despair of those that lived during the era; I know it can sometimes feel over the top, but I think the ideas that Dickens were going for are ideally represented for the audience. Even though the Christmasy look to the background is severely toned down, I think this is a more accurate depiction of the past rather than overly festive. As for the acting, all the players involved do a fantastic job with the exception of a few shaky performances from Cratchit's kids. Of course, the standout performance is from Mr. Stewart who brings Scrooge to life with such conviction and sincerity while simultaneously balancing the portrayal of Scrooge's unforgiving sternness versus his emotional fragility. The right moments are especially stressed to emphasize many of Dickens' themes more adequately than other incarnations like when we see the tortured souls Marley discusses, the various individuals celebrating Christmas around the country, and the heartless nature of many people both rich and poor; there is a lot of powerful imagery present throughout this film that many versions do not do justice toward. The introduction of the three infamous Christmas spirits: past, present, and future (aka Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) could have been done a tad bit better, but their looks are in league with other versions. I've always enjoyed the look at the Christmas past most, because we see what led to Scrooge's downfall. It's interesting that Scrooge only ever had a handful of people that were close to him and he lost them one way or another; although, I've always felt there should have been more closure with his fiancee, Belle. There is a kind of annoying musical number that comes out of nowhere, but I suppose, like me, the writers here felt there needed to be more expression on Scrooge's loss of Belle since it is probably the biggest contributor to his current self. Lastly, I guess there is just this sort of authenticity and faithfulness to the experience that makes it feel like you're almost reading the story. It's hard to explain, but as someone who has read the story many times, I sometimes start to mix up the tinier details that occur between this version and the original story because they play out so similarly in my mind and that is a feat unto itself.

Critics have criticized Scrooge's transformation over the years claiming it was forced, but I think they interpret the story too literally. The underlying notion is that this is a greedy old man experiencing a moment of enlightenment and realization that there is more to life than what he has believed. It's not necessarily that the spirits are scaring Scrooge into changing, because you could argue it was all in his head anyway, but it is a sort of awakening for the character; in fact, it is the ghosts that want him to come to these conclusions on his own. I think this story rightfully deserves the enormous praise and admiration it has garnered over the decades as a fundamental literary masterpiece and essential part of Christmas history. I make it a tradition to watch this film adaptation every Christmas and it usually airs on TV every year anyway. Everything about this incarnation is spot on, feeling like it possesses genuine Hollywood level of productions while never venturing too far from the source material. The acting, music, tone, and imagery are near perfect and the story is brought to life as wonderfully as I could hope. I definitely recommend checking this film out this Christmas or perhaps to even get ahold of the story itself and finally read it if you haven't already.

Notable Moment: When Scrooge sees all the tortured souls like a giant whirlwind in the sky. Talk about some "Dante's Inferno" level shit!

Final Rating: 9/10

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dead End (2003) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A family traveling to visit relatives on Christmas Eve find themselves lost while stalked by a mysterious woman in white and a black hearse.

Review: You'd never guess the degree of critical acclaim and fan following this film has garnered over the years by its terrible opening and title card sequence, but stick with it and you should be pleasantly surprised. Made on a super-low budget of less than a million dollars, the film quality is surprisingly good with recognizable actors like Lin Shaye, Ray Wise, and the lead, Alexandra Holden. Although it has its faults, this is how I wish more indie horror films were--with a tight story, an intriguing mystery, and decent horror elements. This movie is also surprisingly short so you should have more than enough time to squeeze it in between stuffing stockings and decorating your tree.

Like I said, the opening may leave you rolling your eyes for a moment and thinking, "well, this is going to be stupid," but keep going. We are then introduced to the main cast: the father, Frank, the mother, Laura, the daughter, Marion, the son, Richard, and Marion's boyfriend, Brad; for the most part, these are the only characters in the film although it may not feel that way by the end (ooohhh so foreboding!). The first thing that will either amuse or annoy you is the banter between the family members. The dialogue feels mostly real, but it's greatly enhanced by the actors playing up the looks they give each other and superb line delivery. Speaking of which, everyone, for the most part, does a great job bringing their characters to life and making them feel believably real. The family is getting increasingly tired when they nearly crash after Frank falls asleep driving. At this point, horror veterans will probably already know what is happening, but let's go with it for now. With the family startled, they come to the realization that Frank took them on a "short cut," of sorts, on a road they don't recognize that appears to be within a giant forest; I have to acknowledge, the eerie forest shots look cool and ominous. Proceeding forward, the family stumbles upon a woman in white, holding a baby, standing idly in the woods. This part is pretty stupid as Marion says she will walk along for a while as the family, accompanied by the woman in white, drives back to some cabin outpost to call for help since their cell phones aren't working. Talking to herself, we learn that Marion is planning on dumping Brad while at the same time we learn Brad is planning on asking Marion to marry him. But this revelation is short-lived as Brad sees that the woman's baby is dead, screams, and is then next seen being dragged away in the back of a black hearse that slowly drives past Marion. The family regroups to chase down the hearse, minus the woman in white who has disappeared, only to accidentally run over Brad's already dead and mangled body.

One of the things I really like about this movie is that the characters propose different scenarios as to what may be occurring to them which would align with a curious audience. After all, the situation at hand is that there is a woman in white, a black hearse, no one on the road, only a sign pointing to some place called "Marcott" which isn't on the map, and the road and forest both appear endless. The brother thinks it's aliens since their watches have stopped, the father thinks it may be an urban legend he heard about a woman in white, or maybe it is just crazy psychos. As we go along, we learn secrets about the family and their thoughts on various things such as Frank can't stand Laura's family that they're visiting, Marion is pregnant, and amusingly, Richard is smoking pot. Eventually the car blows a tire and while Frank is fixing it, Richard sees the woman in white and makes out with her idiotically (although she is kind of hot). The family, still dealing with the tire, sees the hearse pass by again and now Richard is in the backseat. They chase after the car until they come across Richard's charred body lying in the road. Laura claims that Richard was not Frank's son and becomes unstable as Marion pulls out a gun that was intended to be Laura's bother's Christmas gift. After Laura gorges on food, the family pulls over while she pukes only for her to pull out the gun and shoot Frank. Now, while this may be the stupidest part of the movie (other than when Richard is jacking off), it may have an explanation later since Frank is shot in the leg by a shotgun at close range; his leg would be gone and he certainly wouldn't be driving! Frank believes they have stumbled upon some military road that leads to the coast just as Laura believes she sees ghosts in the woods. Still out of her mind, Laura leaps from the car as the hearse suddenly pulls up. Frank shoots the hearse and as it backs into the shadows, Laura emerges severely injured and dies oddly, to say the least; we then learn about Laura's affair with Frank's friend that produced Richard as Frank drinks heavily.

For some reason, Marion and Frank decide to walk through the woods and find help or whatever they hope to find. After hearing weird noises, they see a light in the distance only to discover it is their own car but on the opposite side of the road; talk about walking in a winter wonderland! The other disturbing aspect was that they did not leave the lights on when they got out of the who did? Oh shit! Anyway, the two come across that same cabin where Brad was taken, now implying they are going in circles on a straight road. The woman in white messes with Frank as he attempts to verify whether or not it's the same cabin only for him to go apeshit and attack Marion in a drunken stupor; Frank then chases after the woman in white only to be killed. Marion comes to, tries to drive away, but the car runs out of gas. Finally, she gets out of the car and asks for whoever is doing this to just end it when she sees body-bags lying in the road containing her family. The hearse emerges in the distance only for the woman in white to get in and drive off. Marion suddenly recalls that the family's near fatal collision did occur as she awakens at a hospital. We then learn that all the family members were killed in the crash, the car they hit contained the woman in white and her baby, and that the doctor taking care of Marion is named Marcott. The person that found the family was driving a vintage hearse as well, but this could be understood differently depending on how you want to interpret the ending.

So essentially everything that happened in the movie was a dream or they were in some kind of limbo; their wounds in that world reflected their real wounds which would explain Frank's gunshot wound. But there is another way of looking at things whereby everything was really happening. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is during the credits when we see a shot of two guys cleaning up the wreck who find a note Frank had written earlier; obviously Frank couldn't have written that before the accident. The other indicator it really happened is the weird guy Marcott is talking to is probably death or the grim reaper or whatever. He is pale, tall, dressed in all black, just happens to drive this old hearse, and describes himself as a "collector." Now if he is death, then it leaves the ending to this film even more bleak since he is giving Marcott a ride with her car coincidentally not working. Maybe she died as well?

Basically, this film is a combination of my favorite Twilight Zone episode, "The Hitch-Hiker," and the urban legend about picking up a girl on the road and then she disappears in the backseat only to discover she died years ago. Obviously there are a lot of cool elements present here even if you could probably see that ending coming a mile away. The actors really save this movie from going down the corny route which it could have easily went. The atmosphere is strong and the audience is left curious as to what is happening with plenty of speculation. The quality looks great with impressive cinematography, commendable distribution of a tight budget, and a general sense of good ideas and intelligent writing and dialogue. On the other hand, there are multiple stupid moments that borderline on absurd, it can be overly comical sometimes, lots of times when budget constraints reveal themselves, and the ending is predictable and unoriginal to horror buffs. Lastly, there are nowhere near enough holiday elements to make this feel like a genuine Christmas horror film; even the scene in the credits and at the hospital look like this is a whole different time of year than December and that's bad editing. Overall, I definitely recommend this film as a proper display of indie film potential as well as being an interesting horror and holiday horror movie in general. Since this film is mostly overlooked, there's a good chance you can use it to spice up your holiday dinner, but understand its flaws.

Notable Moment: When Marion and Frank go into the woods and come out on the other side of the street. It is both creepy and cool, but sort of gives the final clue as to what is going on.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A collection of 6 horror shorts from acclaimed manga artist Kazuo Umezu.

Review: It's extremely rare, but, believe it or not, sometimes Asian horror does venture into the Christmas realm; technically, "Ju-on: Old Lady in White" took place during Christmas time as well. I'd love to say this whole collection was dedicated to this topic, but only the entry "The Present" features a beloved killer santa, and, in all honesty, it's the only reason to even get this set. I've discussed these kinds of collections before with a few having decent budgets and others, like this, coming off extremely weak. I don't know much about Mr. Umezu, or "Umezz" as he is often referred to as, but he does have a uniquely stylized approach to these stories with an underlying story veiled by the primary events. While I can appreciate subtext, you will often find yourself bored out of your mind not caring enough to figure things out. Oddly enough, "The Present" is virtually the only segment that plays it straight with a surprisingly original concept. Well, let's jump headfirst into this collection and see what we can dig up, shall we? Oh, and if anyone knows any other Asian horror movies that involve Christmas, or any other holidays (besides Chinese ghost month), please let me know!

House of Bugs: Well, we start things off with Mr. Umezz yawning and showcasing his precious candy-cane shirt--you know, gotta come out swinging! Get used to this opening, because it plays, in all its cheesy glory, before each story. Once again, the first entry is the worst, by far. Obviously you don't throw out your ace first, but at least put one of your average segments first to lure in the audience for the rest; a lot of anthologies, collections, and series' start off so poorly, like this, for some strange reason. Anyway, the story is that some married couple is having relationship difficulties due to a number of reasons--mostly cheating. The mystery surrounding the situation is that each tells the events from a different perspective making the other out to be crazy. This concept of presenting the story from different angles could be clever if done correctly, but, alas, it is not presented cohesively. I don't understand the problem here since things should be straightforward: the husband is cheating, the wife is manipulating her cousin, and all parties involved are dumbasses. For some reason the wife is convinced she can turn herself into a multitude of insects or actually can do this feat depending on whoever you believe. This doesn't really have any relevance to the plot as we are never introduced to a reason she would think this or how she would be able to do this. After the husband and his lover kiss in front of the seemingly catatonic wife, she really does turn into a giant spider...I guess. Later, the couple appears to make up, but then the husband is shown to be where the wife had been, so now he thinks he's a bug? I don't get it...something with spousal roles...marriage...drama...blah blah blah. It makes no sense, but if you can gain some kind of perspective on this tale of woe, be sure to let me know.

Diet: Considering this collection was sold at one point as individual volumes, you really got screwed if you bought the first one unknowingly. Keeping in line with "House of Bugs," you have a tale trying too hard to be a different story. At face value we are shown a girl who is rejected by the guy she likes and then begins to see herself as fat and ugly; each time she sees this visage of herself, she vomits profusely. It is eventually revealed that she really is the fat and ugly version and the better looking version is her dead sister that she has begun to identify herself as. So her psyche has become warped due to some unspoken trauma or has it really? For some reason the girl is suddenly better looking again when she decides to seduce the guy she likes, but instead eats him alive...somehow. Pretentiously, the credits roll with a scene at the end showing the girl with the police having a large stomach talking about how the guy is "in her." Okay, I think it's safe to say you can easily see the pregnancy plotline not so subtly hidden, but perhaps there is more to it than that. I guess you could look at it as a girl gets pregnant, the guy was only using her, she imagines her looks leaving, perhaps the same thing happened with the sister or mom, and so she kills the guy. Or, she was fat, the guy screwed her because she was easy, and being with a guy made her feel beautiful. Or, the girl, seeing her mom in action, felt that was how you get a guy not realizing the consequences, and the movie is mostly in her imagination and her becoming "normal" again at the end symbolizes her returning to her old self which is why the guy doesn't recognize her. Or maybe I'm giving this shit way too much credit. Needless to say, nothing makes sense and the movie wants you pondering what it all means, but a fuck you will not give. And the "beautiful" version would have been a lot better without helmet-looking hair!

Snake Girl: At this point you will probably notice the trend that all of these stories are not really about what they claim to be. This time we follow the countryside adventure of a little girl visiting some family members as crazy antics ensue. The superstitious townies believe the girl is some prophesied "snake girl" that would cause disaster and so they want her gone. The girl thinks she is literally turning into a snake, but it's actually her overly nice cousin that is the snake girl. Somehow, through kind words, the girl is able to free her cousin of the snake girl curse and turns her back to normal. I suppose the heart of the story is about friendship and understanding since we are shown the girl talking shit earlier in the film implying that her, and others, bulling one particular girl made her a crazy killer. So I guess we are also dealing with guilt and regret, but, hey, wait a minute, her cousin says that the bullies were talking about her, so that means she was the killer as well as the snake girl? Oh forget it; it is futile trying to figure out the real message going on. While this entry does come off almost as nonsensical as the last two, it isn't as pretentious, the story has a little more action, and it had more horror elements. And there's a happy ending and everything!

The Wish: This is definitely the second best of the group as we have a story that could actually be considered scary for once. A lonely, boy genius decides to build a doll as a friend after becoming convinced it will come to life if he believes in it enough. After spending days doing nothing but channeling his willpower toward the doll, he gives up just as he meets a real friend/girlfriend. Unfortunately for the boy, the doll really has come to life and does not take too kindly to the boy's new friend and attempts to kill her. Later, the doll tries to kill the boy as well as the two get into an amusingly long fight. Unlike all the other segments, this entry simply ends with the doll being destroyed and the boy coming to terms with his mistake; no extra level of pretentious "what does this mean" bullshit. The doll looks creepy and the lighting and setups enhance this effectively with a few disturbing moments. With a real budget, this could have been really awesome and with more time they could have lengthened the scary moments. I would not mind one bit if they tried to convert this entry into a full-blown movie. This is a so-called horror collection after all, and this is what every story should have been like!

The Present: Now we come to the main event and probably the easiest segment to track down on sites like youtube. I feel, hands down, this is the best of the six since it is a surprisingly respectable slasher with some interesting and creative ideas. We are first introduced to the lead, Yuko, when she was a child in order to establish what Christmas used to mean to her. We then jump to present day as she is preparing to meet up with her friends and boyfriend/love interest/crush/whatever for some kind of Christmas celebration. Apparently she is nervous because she is offering herself up as her gift to this guy (aka sweet nookie!). The group goes to, what appears to be, the fanciest love hotel in all of Japan as Yuko has flashbacks and an eerie feeling everything is connecting back to her childhood Christmas. Items strewn about the hotel are oddly reminiscent to Yuko and the desk clerk is some white dude dressed as santa who intimidates the unnerved girl. Before being whisked away by prince charming, Yuko hears one of her friends claim that the santa was a woman. The hotel room itself looks like her old bedroom, but, let's face it Yuko-girl, you came there for one reason--to be aggressively groped before fading to black! If you're scared and think you're going insane, do you just roll over and fuck? I guess some people do. Anyway, the lovebirds are awakened by a loud noise as they investigate the bloody massacre in one of their friend's room. The deaths and gore here are about the level you'd expect from V-cinema, but compared to the rest of the entries, I'd say this is where this collection used up most of their budget. The remaining friends are eventually attacked and ripped to pieces by the ensuing white-guy santa who has a pretty cool weapon. Yuko learns that each person sees the killer santa in the form they always imagined him as a child; in Yuko's case, she imagined santa as the iconic Coke version while her friend thought santa was female and her fuck-buddy saw santa as his dad dressed up. I really liked this notion and it was an original way to demonstrate the killer santa idea. If this weren't enough, the killer santa takes the bodies to his "toyshop" of sorts where he turns the remains into food for his bloodthirsty reindeer. As Yuko tries to make one final escape we learn that she is a total bitch and has been manipulating her lover-boy. Wait, huh? She has to manipulate some bang her? As cute as you are, I don't think you need to go to that much effort, hun. Well, keeping with the nonsensical themes of this collection, we have no clue what any of it means, because apparently the killer santa is really her childhood self...killing herself...because she's naughty...and doesn't want to grow up to be like that? I don't fucking know. I guess you could say it was all a dream, because Yuko as a kid says she ripped out her own future-self's brain and says she was that santa. Or since it all felt so unusually reminiscent, maybe it did happen and she's simply recalling her childhood self dreaming about it before she dies? Or maybe the whole segment is a metaphor for childhood innocence and how children view Christmas versus when the kids grow up and see Christmas in a more adult way where they can dish out nookie as a gift? Oh you devious Mr. Umezzzzzzzz you!

Death Make: So do we close out strong after having back to back cool segments? Of course not! It sucks too, because this entry started off very promising. Some TV show has arranged for a bunch of psychics to stay at an allegedly haunted building and record whatever shenanigans may occur. There is also a hint of found-footage style, but not entirely--just a lingering feeling that it may have been intended to originally be that way. The psychics are mostly goofballs that don't really have any control over their powers if they have any at all. Eventually weird shit starts to happen and the psychics are picked off by some creature. Sadly, the creature looks beyond terrible with horrendous CGI. The main girl believes that the creature is a manifestation of her powers which doesn't add up since someone died before she showed up and that wouldn't explain the original context of the haunting with some group of girls who died. Somehow the psychics have been trapped in a different world or dimension until only the main girl is left alive. For some reason, this segment momentarily transforms into an action film as the main girl fights the creature and kills it. Then we cut and apparently the girl is an actress and everything is a movie...uh okay. But then the girl goes outside and rubs her arm and can lift up the skin. The end?! Mr. Umezz, you're killing me here! Okay, I'm tired of trying to think up elaborate interpretations for this shit. Let's just say, the girl committed suicide, thus the cut on her arm at the end, and everything has been in her head as she comes to terms with the death.

What can I say, there were two good segments, one okay, one with potential, and two that were terrible. Make of that however you wish. The quality is simply not consistent from story to story making the whole experience feel like a mess. "The Wish" and "The Present" were both really good and could easily be full-length films if they wanted them to be, but something like "House of Bugs" was torturously boring and should have been reduced to like a 20 minute special. I originally saw these entries spread out over many years never realizing what collection they belonged to so the overall craptacularness never really struck me until now. If you can get this set cheap, like I did, then I'd say it is just barely worth buying, but you can probably track down the better segments online. Eh, I'm going to say it's average mostly due to the weaker stories being balanced by the better ones. Well, if you have an Asian horror craving that must be satiated at all times, then check this one out this Christmas.

Notable Moment: In "The Wish" when the boy's doll is knocking on his window creepily. There were so many moments when I kept thinking how amazing this movie could have been in the right hands.

Final Rating: 5.5/10 (overall)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Black Christmas (remake) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A sorority is stalked by two lame killers on Christmas Eve.

Review: I have to say, this is a contender for worst remake; the real winner is probably that piece of shit "Shutter" remake! When this first came out I remember thinking, "what the fuck did I just watch"? Well, my thoughts have not changed one bit over the last couple years. I can't even believe they had the confidence to release this on Christmas Day as if anyone in their right mind would run out and see this! The original was ripe with material to work with to tell a new story or even a better one, and, yet, the creators failed so monumentally. Not only does this film suck massively in comparison to the original, but it hardly even makes sense as a coherent plot. From start to finish, everything feels like a jumbled mess as if the editor was drunk on spiked eggnog or something. The only redeeming quality to this travesty is the abundance of babes, of which, most are horror alum. You can't go wrong with the likes of Katie Cassidy as the lead, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the severely underrated Lacey Chabert who should be in everything. However, yes, the girls are here and looking great, but they cannot save this mess and this isn't any of their best work

The biggest and worst change comes in the form of the killer and addition of an accomplice. The mystery of the killer's identity and his phone calls are what made the original memorable, but those ideas are tossed out the window in favor of shenanigans; they also decided to give these two killers the most retarded of backstories which eats up a lot of the running time. In the original, the killer mentioned the names Billy and Agnes in his disturbing phone calls, so this film decided to make those actual characters which I suppose is mildly clever. Billy, as a child, used to live at the sorority house, obviously before the sorority, and saw his mother and her boyfriend murder his dad one Christmas. Considering how big the house is, how the hell do these clowns have money for this as we are left to assume the murdered father must have been the one with money? They make the mom out to be such a psycho bitch which only emphasizes the ridiculous nature of it all; I should note, Billy boy has yellow skin for the sake of trying to make him appear intimidating. As time passes, Billy's mom starts to "rape" the catatonic-like Billy as we are left to assume he is traumatized from watching his dad die and is locked in the attic. This leads to the birth of his sister/daughter, Agnes, who we learn pretty much nothing about. For some reason, when Agnes is about Billy's age when his father was killed, he snaps and murders the mom, boyfriend, and rips out Agnes' eye for whatever reason. Now the film makes Billy out to be a feared killer reminiscent of Michael Myers, but his body count is low, comprised of the people who wronged him, and I feel his murders are justified; if it weren't for ripping out Agnes' eye, he wouldn't be a villain at all. For yet another inexplicable reason, Billy tries to escape some mental institute every Christmas to...kill people...I guess? In fact, he has no motivation to kill whatsoever except because the script demands it. As for Agnes, oh good fucking lord she is a contrivance. Besides the idiotic fact she is played by an extremely large man, she has even less motivation to be a killer and what a coincidental, one in a billion chance, she and Billy boy both decide to return to this, now, sorority house to kill whoever inhabits it on the same day and time?! The movie showed us Billy doesn't like Agnes, but then they conveniently meet up at the same exact moment with the same exact idea to kill and suddenly get along and work together? Are you fucking shitting me here?! And of course both are super-humans when needed and as weak as a little ol' granny at supposed tense moments. To sum it up: the killers have a backstory that is meant to be filler, they have no motive, their meeting defies any reasonable sense of chance, look and act stupid, and follow the horror cliche handbook to the letter. Simply beautiful.

The other half of the story is comprised of the sorority girls talking shit, acting like bitchy princesses, and dying in uninteresting ways. As I mentioned, the story is an incoherent mess as we are introduced to red herrings. Yeah, in a movie that spends so much time explaining the killers' origins, we have red herrings. And it's not even like it's just one, but there are at least three! There are multiple subplots that contribute absolutely nothing to the story except to make the red herrings appear more suspicious which makes you want to strangle someone. Rika--give me the strength to keep on going! I feel like a lot of scenes were filmed with the intention of making this a "whodunnit" like the original, but during filming they changed the direction...either that or they are as dumb as fuck. Everyone dies in lame ways with only two deaths invoking the original's ideas. For some reason the killers have this eye fetish which is moronic and, again, has no explanation. The phone calls are sporadic and make no sense given that the killers are hiding in the walls and floorboards like roaches. Likewise, the killers appear to be everywhere simultaneously; it's as if they figured, "well, we have two killers so we can get away with it," but nice try. All the atmosphere and tension of the original has been sucked out and replaced with by-the-numbers slasher kills. By the end, everyone dies except Ms. Cassidy, so you don't even get to bask in the beauty of the majority of the girls.

The more I think about this garbage the more I realize it goes beyond hate and into loathing territory. Seriously, if it weren't for so many hot chicks in one place, I'd be raging. I mean, if I want to be totally fair, the only good things were the girls, the Christmasy-look was done well, and I liked the claustrophobic feel from the snowstorm trapping them in the house; by the way, the storm is so severe yet a lunatic in bare feet can make it to the house as well as two of the red herrings? This film embodies everything we hate about remakes and why they appear to always be inferior. Hell, even the director has come out saying it sucked! This is the fruitcake of Christmas-themed movies: you don't watch it and punch whoever gave it to you in the face.

Notable Moment: When Heather is killed in the car. I mean, this death is so contrived and stupid it kind of sums up the quality (or lack thereof) of the film as a whole.

Final Rating: 4/10

The lovely ladies with the tatas front and center! Such a clever marketing strategy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Black Christmas (original) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A sorority is hounded by disturbing phone calls as the girls are picked off one by one.

Review: Often referred to as the inspiration for "Halloween" and sometimes even considered to be the first conventional slasher, we come to the original "Black Christmas." In a lot of ways this film does present what would later be considered '80s cliches, but I'd say this film is more of a retelling of a timeless urban legend with aspects of the "whodunnit" plotline. Unfortunately, the slowness and lack of resolution to who, in fact, did "do it" is why this film is nothing more than a cult film to horror buffs rather than a full blown icon in the vein of "Halloween." I should mention it's kind of ironic that the same director of this film, Bob Clark, also did "A Christmas Story?" I guess he wanted to show both ends of the spectrum or something. Maybe I can work on a third movie to bridge the gap between Ralphie's spiral into madness after photos of his pink bunny outfit are leaked and ruin his life. In turn, this leads to him becoming a psychotic killer that segways into the opening scene of "Black Christmas?" Wouldn't that be amusing? Nope? Fine.

While I have my gripes with the overall presentation, there's a lot to like here for those that may be unfamiliar with this film. The atmosphere is great, balancing that eerie unease to the situations while darkening the cheery vibe that Christmas is meant to portray. I know a lot of '70s movies have this certain grainy and dreary look to the film naturally, but it really works to this movie's benefit enhancing the scenes. There are quite a few awesome shots that carry the film well--like the suffocated girl on the cover. At the heart of the story is basically the urban legend about a babysitter receiving phone calls to "check on the children" only to later reveal that these phone calls are coming from within the home. So you have this same underlying plot except the babysitter is replaced by sorority girls and the calls are now simply insane ramblings. At first the calls are the kind of bullshit you'd expect from a horror film, but they become more creative as the movie progresses; this definitely creates some interesting tension as you wonder who the killer may be. And even though things don't turn out as I'd hope, I have to admit the film begs you to speculate as to the killer's identity; theories abound as you might have guessed. The acting is fairly decent from most players, despite a few instances to the contrary, and the killer's insanity feels real and the threats imminent. Finally, this sorority is fugly as hell which emphasizes the lone hottie and lead, Jess, played by the lovely Olivia Hussey. I mean, goddamn, these chicks are looking middle aged or worse! I'm not even joking, but the only cast member who returns for the shitty remake actually looked a thousand times better 32 years later! I actually pulled back in fear when I saw one of the chick's boyfriends too (okay, well not really, but he looked like a fucking monster!). Margot Kidder, Lois Lane herself, even looked old as hell when in reality she was 26 at the time. What happened here? The 1970s: ugliest decade in history?

The main reason why this film has become forgettable, when it easily possesses the potential to be remembered to this day as commonly as "Halloween," is due to the disappointing reveal, or lack thereof, to the killer's identity. You have all these red herrings, subplots, and deliberate camera trickery to mask the killer's face only to never reveal who the killer is or his motive! Come the fuck on! Considering some of the odd and random things the killer says in his phone calls, you'd hope to be blown away by his motive or something, but you never know. There are theories that it was Peter, Jess' boyfriend, all along, but considering we see the killer very much alive at the end, it rules him out. Some people think it was the first victim, Claire's, boyfriend, but I doubt that for a number of reasons, and if it were that simple why close things out with the audience left not knowing? No, there was no intention to reveal the killer's identity which aggravates most people especially when you establish a "whodunnit" setting. Here's the thing, this ending wouldn't be so bad if the film weren't structured in such a way that it needed a payoff, and since there was never a sequel, it's more annoying than anything. Hell, maybe it was Claire's creepy dad? The other aspect that hurts the film, although to a significantly lesser degree, is the slowness to the buildup and the sparse deaths. The film comes out swinging with disturbing calls and murders but then sort of lingers on for a long time until the already explained weak ending. There needed to be something bigger in the second act to bridge into the finale. Instead, all I see is drab colors and people with way too much hair for 40 minutes in between a kill.

In the end, this is a decent movie that most certainly laid a lot of the groundwork for '80s slashers and deserves more attention for this. The atmosphere is strong and commendable, the musical score is ominous, and there is an interesting play on a familiar story to appreciate. While it offers a lot to love, the journey is shaky and the final destination of the story is disappointing. Keeping your killer mysterious in an attempt to make him feel more dangerous and threatening doesn't necessarily work if you follow a by the book "whodunnit" plotline in which the audience is expecting a payoff; this is an avenue "Halloween" was definitely more successful with. I'd still say check this one out if santa leaves it in your stocking.

Notable Moment: It's kind of hard to explain, but they keep cutting back and forth to the first victim, Claire, and after a while it becomes almost comical. There is one particular time they cut to her dead body rocking in the chair and she looks like she's having such a good time I kept imagining upbeat music playing.

Final Rating: 6/10

Ms. Hussey: a diamond in the rough.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jingle All the Way Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Antics ensue as a workaholic father attempts to find a rare toy for his stupid son on Christmas Eve.

Review: Seriously Arnie? A Christmas movie? That's like doing a movie where you get pregnant...oh wait. I guess this could be considered the scariest Christmas movie I cover this season depending on your point of view. It's safe to say this film is universally hated, but I have a certain soft spot in my heart for it in the same manner as a piece of shit like "Batman & Robin;" it honestly becomes funnier to me each time I watch it. I'm even willing to admit I bought this on VHS back in the day, because that's just how I roll. But is it really as bad as people make it out to be? Well...yes and no. I think people have missed the point, that this film is heavily anti-consumerism, to such a degree that I've read reviews claiming this movie promotes mindless materialism; did we watch the same movie? The other thing I like is that it satirizes a lot of trends from the '90s that sort of slipped under the radar. On the other hand, the acting is atrocious beyond imagination (it's pretty bad when Arnie is out-acting the majority of the cast), and the jokes are especially childish, stupid, and cliched as all hell.

Okay, I'm not advocating that this film is good in any way, I'm simply saying that there are good qualities that are overlooked due to the overwhelming stupidity throughout the film solidified by the terrible acting. First off, this is pretty much the only movie I know of that satirizes the "toy of the year" phenomenon. For those oblivious to this ungodly practice, every year there is some hot toy that everyone is trying to get, but the quantity does not match the demand and all manner of shenanigans ensue with the general public. Sometimes it is somewhat warranted, with the case of various video game systems or cooler toys, but then there are those times where kids only want the stupid toys because other people have them like fucking Furby or molest-me Elmos. In this film they are using "Power Rangers" as their inspiration, which would make sense given that this film was made in '96, and the toy in question is called "Turbo-Man." It really irks me that they keep referring to the toy as a "doll." Seriously, what little boy would go around saying they play with dolls? When I was a kid, you got your ass kicked for such things unless it was a Chucky doll. Anyway, the focus of the story is demonstrating how crazy individuals become in the pursuit of these sought after toys. While things do go a bit overboard in the zany antics department, this film does present a decent look at how commercialized the Christmas season has become with a few jabs at society. There is even an underlying notion that the only way to prove your love as a parent is to give your brats the shit they want, but in the end the film shows that there is more to the parent-child relationship than material gain. Well, maybe I'm drawing more depth out of this film than it deserves, but it was trying to convey this idea I promise.

As for why this movie has such a reputation for sucking, there are reasons aplenty. The cast flat out sucks. Even actors who typically aren't that bad are showcasing embarrassing performances. I wasn't even exaggerating when I said Arnie was one of the best actors here; take that however you wish. Some lines are delivered so poorly it's like they took one take and said, "eh, good enough." But even if the actors brought any kind of conviction to their roles it would still be impossible to make the childish tone more appealing. But oddly enough, I know this is supposed to be a kid's movie, but when you throw in a divorce subplot, the notion of "going postal," creepy jokes and situations, and pretty much admitting there's no santa, are the kiddies even going to watch this? As for Arnie fans, when he's delivering lines like this: "I mean you thought for a minute I would not do something you tell me?" it's hard to imagine the same guy taking on the Predator, T-1000, and Lucifer. Who the hell wrote that total bitch line anyway?! And what's up with that androgynous kid Arnie chases in one of the most pedo-riffic scenes imaginable? And come on, Arnie uppercuts a reindeer! Good lord. But you know, the scenes are so idiotic and over the top, it starts to get to you upon each viewing; you start to appreciate a certain charm to it all that transforms the film into so-bad-it's-good territory. Now when I watch this movie, I no longer cringe with anger but instead laugh at the one-liners and weird nuances.

Although this film has garnered a lot of hate, and rightfully so, it's nowhere near as bad as critics make it out to be. If you grew up in the '90s, or were a parent then, I'm sure you will appreciate this film all the more as it makes light of the over-indulgence of that era. Sure, the acting is laughable, the dialogue is horrendous, and the jokes fall flat more than they succeed, but it is so bad it's good if you can appreciate the stupidity. Plus, what were people really expecting from a family film with Arnie?

Notable Moment: When Arnie is screaming about, "PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN!!!" There always has to be one-liners in these movies and that's my favorite.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A man, traumatized as a child at Christmas, believes himself to be Santa Claus and delves into murderous insanity.

Review: First, this has no connection, as far as I know, to "New Year's Evil" although it should! Goodness gracious this has to be one of, if not, the most bizarre Christmas themed movie out there. Okay, yes, there are some really horrific Christmas movies out there, but this one has a level of disturbing all to itself. I have this piece of shit on VHS and it kind of enhances the absurdity of it all with that grainy footage, but I did recently see a DVD version and it still looked bad. I think it's supposed to be a slasher, but there are so few deaths while the vast majority of the film is comprised of the slow exploration of the lead character, Harry's, drift into madness. I will give this film some credit though, it is scary in a real life stalker kind of way where you would worry about that creepy guy hanging around your kids. does have one of the craziest endings known to film.

I really have to break down this one's plot since it needs to be analyzed properly to understand just how crazy it is. Well, back in 1947, Harry, as a boy, believes he sees the real santa showing up at his house, and I suppose he is somewhat in awe and half scared. Although, did they seriously leave bread and butter for santa...pst amateurs, I always leave that bitch pizza. Harry's younger brother, Phil, tries to explain that santa was their dad is disguise, but Harry doesn't believe it. Wait, santa's not real?! Say it ain't so! So Harry tries to prove him wrong when he stumbles upon santa groping his mom by the Christmas tree. That's how that song goes, right? I saw mommy getting groped by Santa Claus? And what the hell, that's like the worst groping I've ever seen! It's like he's trying to tenderize her thigh...dude, this is the worst foreplay--bring your A game it's Christmas after all! In response to this sight, Harry cuts himself? Was he the forerunner for all emo babies out there? You'd think there would be more to this trauma, but that's about it; it's nowhere near the antics seen in "Silent Night, Deadly Night." To be fair, the film does acknowledge the outlandish and over the top spazzing out over such a trivial sight later on.

So we skip ahead to "present day" which looks a lot like 1980 since we see it written all over the place multiple times including the same fucking scene that says "present day." Alright, it is never explicitly said, but I'm going to jump to the assumption that Harry treats everyday as if it's Christmas since the film opens sometime in November presumably. This includes playing Christmas music when he wakes up, dressing in red pajamas with Christmas paraphernalia strewn about, appearing to open presents offscreen, and using his shaving cream to amuse himself with a fake beard. In essence, Harry has become obsessed with Christmas and gradually likens himself to be Santa as the film progresses. To get his mornings off to a good start, Harry busts out the binoculars to start spying on the neighborhood kids and record their activities in his naughty and nice books that he has been logging for years. I have to say, the music enhances most scenes nicely to properly convey the emotions and shenanigans of Harry's sporadic thoughts. I guess I should stress that although Harry appears to be a pedophile stalker, the film wants him to be more obsessed with trying to be santa than to be interested in the kiddies in any other way...but come on! Conveniently, Harry works at, you guessed it, a fucking toy factory where he was somehow promoted to a manager which is peculiar given how much of a lunatic he appears to be--always one step away from going postal. And seriously, this factory is the absolute worst toy factory known to man with the saddest toys I've ever seen; I suppose this can be explained away by budget constraints.

I'll give this film credit yet again--it definitely does not spoon-feed the audience as there is a lot going on under the film's surface, and you have to draw a lot of the conclusions on your own. I don't know what was the exact trigger to make Harry finally go off the rails, but after about 40 minutes of showing the audience just how creepy Harry can be, he finally begins to take action. Maybe it was the fact that the toy company he works for sucks that set him off, or maybe he just wanted to grab a kiddie already, or maybe it has something to do with "playing the tune" of humanity he keep rattling on about--I have no clue; at least one character does say "I don't know what the fuck you're talking about" in response to this nonsense. Let's just say someone like Natre from "Shutter" scares me on one level and someone like Harry scares me on a whole different level. I should probably mention there are scenes of Harry staring at a picture of one of the neighborhood girls who appears to be his unspoken favorite, going out of his way to mess with one of the naughty kids in the most unusual manner, and a restrained rage as he has nothing but unhealthy means to express his emotions both suppressed and repressed. Harry is at least interesting, you can't argue with that.

By Christmas Eve, Harry has assembled a custom santa suit, glued on a beard, and has exclaimed "it's me!" accompanied by the most maniacal laughter. Oh yeah, that's perfectly sane...hell, I do that once a week. It's tough to say what exactly was his plan since we see Harry do a wide array of things on this night with little to no direction. At first it seems like he wants to kill his boss and people who have been making him mad, but when he goes to kill some guy in marketing, he ends up just killing the people in front of the guy. Uh okay. Harry stops a few times to deliver presents as he stole a great number from the toy factory; this includes breaking into some houses while also delivering some to a hospital for retarded kids. Aww, he has a heart of gold deep down inside! He even takes a break to dance and entertain at a party. Maybe I should also mention he painted his van (yeah, I know, a pedophile-like dude with a van) to have a slay on the side, and when he's driving he pretends he's cheering/whipping his reindeer. I think a lot of this kind of speaks for itself at this point. After all manner of zany antics, Harry decides to end the night by killing the guy he works with that makes fun of him most but not before leaving some presents for the kids.

Now that it's Christmas Day, Phil begins to worry about Harry since he noticed how weird he was acting earlier in the film, and I think it's safe to say he knows how obsessed Harry is with Christmas. With the news broadcasting about a killer santa, Phil easily suspects that it's Harry. But it doesn't matter, because Harry is still running around delivering a few last minute gifts until some guy tries to fight him while Harry manipulates kids into helping him. This is when the movie goes right into the stratosphere of absurdity with one ridiculous scene after another. So the families that witness Harry's fight with this guy grab torches and create an angry mob that chases Harry. What, no pitchforks? I mean, seriously?! Keep in mind, it is subtly revealed that the setting is the suburbs of New York City, and you're telling me these people would gather an angry mob with torches like this is fucking "Frankenstein" or something? Harry escapes in his van and flees to Phil's house where the two get into a fight as Phil realizes Harry is the killer santa. Harry is still talking about playing some tune like a nutcase, and they address what I mentioned earlier about Harry's shoddy motive for becoming insane. Phil says something about how Harry claims he's insane because that one time when the two were kids Phil said santa wasn't real and Harry has been trying to prove him wrong his whole life. Good lord, at least the film is aware to the idiocy of it all! It's so funny too when you think about it--this guy has become this degree of insane over one line his brother told him as a kid. Oh, but the fun isn't over yet! After choking Harry into unconsciousness, Phil decides to drag him back into his van as he wakes up and punches Phil in the face in an overly comical way. Harry drives off but is somehow confronted by that same angry mob who apparently possessed the first GPS tracker. Or maybe it's all a dream because right when Harry is cornered, he drives off a cliff and instead of crashing into the ground, he whimsically flies off to the moon and becomes the real santa after all. I'm not even making this up. That's how the movie really ends. HE FUCKING FLIES AWAY! Take a few minutes if you will to laugh.

A lot goes unexplained like what's up with his fascination with the kids, does he associate Christmas with sex or at least with the repression of it, why does he want to be santa if he believes he groped his mom, what the hell is this nonsense about playing the tune (at best we assume he implies fitting in), and why do we only get inferences on how crazy Harry was throughout his life? This movie is scary, no doubt about that, but not in the way you'd think. While it fails as a slasher, and probably a late "Halloween" ripoff at that, it succeeds at presenting one of the weirdest and creepiest characters ever. There are so many strange nuances, odd choices, and seemingly nonsensical scenes that this film feels like a bad ecstasy trip. If it weren't so boring with so few deaths, this really could have been one of the greatest cult classics of the '80s, but instead it all feels like a bad dream--how I'd imagine Christmas looks like in hell. But is this film any good? Eh, it's tough to say because it needs to be watched to fully grasp the ridiculous nature of everything, but at the same time, it is hard to enjoy. Plus there's that, make of it what you will.

Notable Moment: The end of course. I mean, seriously, it has to be one of the weirdest, most unexpected scenes of all time.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

The Ramblings of Ryan Volume 2

So it's once again time for a regular blog post. The first thing I wanted to say was that I seriously dropped the ball again this November. I didn't do any reviews last year and this year I only did a couple! Tsk tsk. Well, I partially blame this on "Battle Royale II: Requiem," because I vowed to never watch it again, and I'm trying soooooo hard to force myself to finish it (but failing)! And I must stress it's my love for the first BR that makes me hate the sequel so much. I should probably also explain my review process since it's kind of overly complicated which typically isn't my style. Usually I will watch a movie, even if I've seen it a million times, and then add it to my blog with a basic framework of what I want to talk about. But because I juggle anywhere from 10-20 movies at a time, my time of viewing these films may be anywhere from weeks or even months ago. This leads to the fact that I sometimes lose interest in a film to review, and, on occasion, I just forget a movie altogether. Of course there are exceptions like when a movie is so bad I feel inspired to write immediately, but, for the most part, this is the pattern I follow. I simply need to make sure BR doesn't fall through the cracks, because BR II sucks so much!

Anyway, I will try and make up for things with a lot of Christmas movie reviews--for better or worse. Some will be horror themed, of course, (and I'm starting off with a doozy) and some will be generic Christmas movies--I'll have to see how festive I'm feeling. Eh, I'm sure I'll throw in some non-Christmas movies just to spice things up. I mean, it just wouldn't be the holidays without a decapitation or two, right? What has been keeping me busy was part work and part addiction to the video game "Borderlands 2." I'm not sure how many are familiar with that game, but it's awesome! I definitely recommend going out and playing it, but be weary of the price especially as it has way too much shitty dlc; if you can possibly get just the core game, I'd say the only must-have is the dlc "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep." It might not seem like all that much at a glance, but once you play it for a while, you find yourself hopelessly immersed!

Another thing on my mind is that I have been thinking about redoing a couple reviews and adding an "updated" label to them to establish a differentiation. It's not to say that everything about the original review would be lost, simply that there are some movies I felt I did not give it my best--especially my earlier ones. Then there are the instances when I re-watch a film and my original view of a film may have differed one way or another. I definitely want to redo my review for "Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait," because that has remained my most popular post since it was uploaded, and I feel as though I'm doing a disservice by not providing a more thorough review. Also, I don't think my point that it was a good movie was expressed properly. Right now I have it at a 6/10 rating, but I originally intended to give it a 7/10. The problem was that I began to think more about the story and realized only one scare in the whole film was real while everything else was merely a dream. This fact bothered me, because how the hell do you make all of your scares dreams?! It was just stupid. Eh, I'll go back over it at some point; I simply want it to be made aware. Plus, there are a few movies I have re-watched and have quietly added revisions, but I want to be more thorough like how I'm still kicking myself for not addressing the ladies of "C-ute" that were in "Ousama Game!"

I know it's kind of late, but seriously, that fucking "Dexter" series finale pissed me off! There are so many stupid things to say about the entire last season in general that I could go on all day, but I don't want to get too detailed--just want to express my rage, because I felt it was worth discussing. In my mind, there is only seasons 1-4, and after the (spoiler!!!) death of Rita, due to Dexter sparing Trinity, he gave up killing. I don't even care. It's better to imagine that ending than the atrocious, disgraceful decline into mediocrity that was seasons 5-8. There were so many laughably bad moments that it's embarrassing to think of the endless potential this show had and the direction it was taken leading to its miserably unsatisfying conclusion. On the other hand, at least "Breaking Bad" did live up to the hype! Also, I wanted to mention that I am surprisingly enjoying the show "Sleepy Hollow" for it's "Supernatural" meets "The X-Files" vibe coupled with my love for all things apocalyptic. I know it can seem campy as hell, but check it out with an open mind and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

And finally, Rika says merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bestseller Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An author accused of plagiarism attempts to write a new novel seemingly dictated by her daughter's imaginary friend only to discover it may be true.

Review: With a cool premise, an eerie setting, and incredible cinematography, you'd think this film would turn out to be a slam dunk, right? Wrong. I had been meaning to watch this film for the longest time, but the anticipation has become almost half-expected disappointment; my most repeated complaint continues to be regarding wasted potential. There are so many good ideas presented that it's actually kind of startling that they would blow it this badly with terrible endgame choices, nonsensical plot decisions, and laughable overacting. Honestly, it's like someone wanted to have every horror movie cliche and plotline wrapped up in one movie while never accurately pulling off a single idea. There were so many pointless setups I thought they might have been intended to be red herrings, but I think that gives the writer too much credit.

I guess we can start off with what was good first this time around. The excellent cinematography will catch your eye immediately as it not only makes the film appear to be working with a larger budget, but it shows off the elegant beauty of the Korean landscape. A lot of shots are interesting and serve to create tension well enough even if there is rarely a payoff; to be fair, this certainly isn't the first time a mediocre film appears better than it really is at the hands of a capable cinematographer. The basic premise to the film is, in fact, interesting, creative, and sprinkled with bouts of originality. The notion that the lead, Hee-soo, is trying to write a comeback novel and becomes entranced by a creepy tale her daughter says her imaginary friend continually repeats sounds, admittedly, badass; if only the film presented things to that degree and with as much clarity as I'm providing. As an extension of this, making the setting an old orphanage opened up a lot of possibilities that definitely were not exploited to their zenith...or at all for that matter.

So with this much going for you, how do you screw it all up? Apparently, quite easily. Okay, first and foremost, the movie is way too long (two full and long hours!) when it does not have nearly enough material or a sophisticated enough mystery to drag out the suspense. The mystery as to what is going on does keep you intrigued for a good amount of the film, but it slowly fizzles as you become bored with the intentional stalling to pointlessly pad the film out unnecessarily. You eventually reach a point where the story has become so convoluted you stop caring about why things are happening. The writer/director tried to tackle too much all at once without factoring in how it would all come together. The orphanage as a setting is wasted because it never once becomes relevant to the plot or is even implied to be connected to the story. Yes, the house is pivotal to everything, but it didn't need to be an orphanage except for the sheer red herring factor which comes off as a huge ass waste. The drama with Hee-soo and the plagiarism is stupid and draws out the film longer when it should have been altered to fit the film more concisely. Essentially, Hee-soo is accused of plagiarism, tries to write a new book to forget about it, only to be accused of plagiarizing again with this ghost story she hears from her daughter, Yeun-hee. This would have played out significantly better if we skip the first incident of plagiarizing altogether, have Hee-soo attempting to write the book, as is, with the ghost story, and then when Hee-soo is accused of plagiarizing she's taken aback because she thought her daughter was making it all up. Then her drive to prove she didn't plagiarize would make more sense as she is both scared that maybe there really was a ghost. I mean, you'd change the entire dynamics of the film, but it would work more efficiently and become audience friendly instead of rage-inducing. Oh but then we'd spoil the idea that Yeun-hee is already dead and in the mind of Hee-soo! Oh nooooo! This plotline comes out of left field (yet somehow predictable in its stupidity), is beyond unnecessary, and, most unforgiving of all, somehow manages to not effect the plot except to further drag things out. Oh great, now we have a guilty mom plotline on top of an already needlessly complicated story that has no fucking clue where it's heading!

You know, they don't even fully explain to you whether or not Hee-soo did plagiarize or was there really a ghost involved. What, you thought this movie would have scares and take advantage of its own ideas? Of course not! So let me get this straight: Hee-soo wasn't taking care of Yeun-hee because she was so wrapped up in this plagiarism scandal, and she died in an accident like a moron. Hee-soo feels guilty for it so she imagines Yeun-hee helping her write her next book supposedly regaled by an imaginary friend/ghost. So a crazy woman imagines a ghost, who talks to a ghost, to collaborate on a book that was already written by someone else--and that other writer, surprise surprise, serves to no connection to the plot? The fuck? Ughhhh. Grrrr. But the whole point of the mystery is that the supposedly plagiarized book is there a fucking ghost or not?! When we finally meet the killers who conveniently show up in the last torturous half hour, one of them appears to see a ghost and one of them apparently was hearing whispers before he died so what the hell? Oh yeah, keep it vague--have to be artistic and all! The film attempts to provide a few twists and turns, but they're either painfully obvious or would have made more sense in another movie. Why couldn't they simply present this film as a conventional horror or even focus on the thriller aspects? If all this weren't bad enough, you have to deal with 120 minutes of shitty overacting from most characters, especially Hee-soo, with the exception of Yeun-hee, who is acceptable, and the husband who is probably the only decent actor. You don't even want to know how many times I was screaming for Hee-soo to calm the fuck down! Should have known she was nuts the moment I saw that crazed hair and eyeliner.

I felt like I was watching ten different movies here which is kind of ironic coming from a film that centers around plagiarism; there were glimmers of shit like "Secret Window" and "What Lies Beneath" while appearing to be greatly influenced by something like "Stir of Echoes." Under all the bullshit I feel there is a good movie trying to get out, but it tried to accomplish and be more than it was capable of. In different hands or with a more clear direction, this could have been one of the legends, but, unfortunately, that will never be. Real scares would have made this film a hundred times better no matter how played out they were or even if they were jump scares. Overall, this film isn't all bad even though the story is a mess; it has its moments and looks good while having them. However, I simply can't recommend this film because it makes me mad thinking about all the poor decisions and idiotic handling of what should have been a great premise. So the next time you pass this title on Netflix, just keep going.

Notable Moment: When we see a ghostly Yeun-hee emerge out of the shadows. It's probably the only scary moment and a sort of foreshadowing of revelations to come. In retrospect it makes no sense whatsoever, but that's beside the point.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No One Lives Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of professional thieves seek to rekindle their losses from a botched job by kidnapping a seemingly wealthy couple only to discover much more than they bargained for.

Review: Don't let the fact that this film was produced by the WWE deter you from seeing this even though its distribution was handled horribly. I wasn't expecting anything when I watched this little film and was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it turned out to be. I should have known there was a lot of potential here due to the director involved, Ryuhei Kitamura (you certainly feel his artistic flair), who had directed "Azumi," which I love, and fan favorite, "Versus;" this isn't his first foray into Hollywood, however, as some may be familiar with the film, "The Midnight Meat Train" with an up and coming Bradley Cooper. While this film does provide a certain vibe of borrowing multiple ideas from numerous other sources, the concepts are brought together in such a way to feel unique. Essentially you have every element you would want from an action/thriller: guns, gore, babes, and a likable killer.

The film begins with a girl trying to flee from the killer who is simply referred to as the "Driver." We are then introduced to a couple traveling across country who appear to be having some personal issues, but it's pretty damn obvious the guy is the Driver, played admirably by Luke Evans; I definitely love his sadistic approach to the character and the pure enjoyment he displays when killing people. To finish setting the stage, we are introduced to an organized group of thieves who are caught in the middle of a job as the family they are robbing arrives home early. One of their more reckless members, Flynn, shoots the family leading the group to abandon the heist and retreat; annoyingly, Flynn takes forever to be killed as if they were dragging out the anticipation since he is such a little bitch of a character. The thieves head to a local bar to blow off steam when they cross the path of the Driver and his squeeze, Betty. Flynn, wanting to make up for the blown heist, believes he can recoup the losses by taking it from the Driver and Betty, convinced they are rich. After running the couple off the road and keeping them captive at the thieves' headquarters of sorts, Flynn begins to raid the Driver's possessions when he stumbles upon the girl from the beginning, named Emma, tied up in the trunk of his car. It's at this same moment when Betty inexplicably kills herself by plunging her throat upon a knife held by one of the thieves pushing the Driver into a berserk rage. Emma, cleaned up by the thieves, reveals to them that the Driver is a devious killer, and they have no idea what they have got themselves caught up in.

Besides being a more than capable fighter, the Driver possesses an array of weapons and traps that he uses to ensnare and kill the thieves one at a time. Emma is no push over either as she has been learning to be a killer/survivalist at the hands of the Driver. It is implied that the Driver carefully and methodically brainwashes his victims to be like him and perhaps learn to love him such as with Betty. However, Emma only wishes to kill the Driver at all costs and is even willing to save him if it would mean she would be denied the pleasure of killing the Driver herself; this was an interesting relationship dynamic I don't believe is explored often enough in film: a hate so strong you'd save someone from being killed just so you can be the one to kill that individual. Eventually everyone is picked off until there is a final showdown between the Driver, Flynn, and Emma. Thankfully, Flynn is killed gruesomely, and the Driver takes Emma down revealing he had a GPS tracker in her body, which he rips out, implying she is very much on the same path as Betty before her. The final scene involves the Driver killing the last thief, that managed to survive, at a hospital as the Driver states the title line.

Parts of this film do feel like a cross between the likes of "Saw" and "The Collector," among many others, but the Driver is amusing enough to make a name for himself. For the most part, this is a fun film that tried to appease the audience it was focused toward by throwing in lots of action and fan service. It's not without its flaws by any means as there are a fair number of contrivances, we don't learn enough about the Driver, I didn't like the order in which the characters were killed, and a lot of moments did feel like a ripoff of other movies. I definitely recommend giving this one a try since it will more than likely fade into obscurity due to the lack of promotion, and I don't feel it deserves such a fate; this film is significantly better than it would appear. But if you're not the type that likes to cheer on the villain, give this a pass.

Notable Moment: When the Driver reveals he had hollowed out the body of Ethan and used it like a blanket to help him find the location of the other thieves. It's a cool reveal and completely bloody.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Purge Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: In a futuristic USA, most societal problems have been alleviated by allowing all crime to be legal one day a year.

Review: By now you're probably just about done scarfing down all that Halloween candy and maybe regretting it. Don't tell me I'm the only one still eating Halloween candy by Christmas? Admit it. Well, I have the perfect movie to help you rid yourself of all that excess sugar: "The Purge!" It's about losing weight and working out and it's really awesome--oh, wait, what? It's about a stupid family in the future terrorized by rejects from "The Strangers" on a made up holiday?! That can't be right. Okay, it's like the year 2100 or something, right? 2022?! So not even a decade away? Perfect. Alright, fine, then it must be an amazing morality tale and reveal some insight about human nature, correct? All that happens is some rich family unwillingly protects a random guy from said flunkies from "The Strangers?!!" Are you fucking kidding me? I have watched so many shitty movies in my life, but few have made me as angry as this instance. I guess it's my own fault, because I believed reviews and others saying this was a good film. I should have stuck with my gut feeling which is why I never rushed out to see this garbage before, but I would have never imagined this movie to be as stupid and aggravating as it turned out to be (I'm seriously clenching my fists in frustration while trying to type).

So what do we really have here? Basically, we have a bullshit holiday where you can commit crime without consequence which apparently led to wannabe "The Strangers" losers (called purgers) trying to kill anyone that gets in their way. I cannot emphasize how much these so-called purgers ripoff the already shitty "The Strangers" in their look, presentation, and pretentiously "creepy" mannerisms. The main cast is some rich family, called the Sandins, whose son tries to help a guy the purgers are trying to kill. If this weren't stupid enough, the daughter's boyfriend tries to kill the dad amidst this idiocy. Eventually the Sandins decide they will help this random guy and there is a brief transition into an action film as most of these rejects die. After the dad dies, the neighbors of the Sandins kill all the remaining purgers so that they can have the pleasure of killing the Sandins themselves. The random guy they had been protecting eventually saves them, even though they were assholes to him, and the movie ends with them releasing the remaining neighbors as the purge is over...till next time! There is never even a reason why the purgers were trying to kill this particular guy other than the fact that he fought back; so don't expect any big twists. We never even get to see what's really going on in the rest of the country which was lame as hell.

I hardly know how to approach all that is wrong here, but I suppose the thing that bothered me most was the absolute implausibility of the situation. "But Ryan, look at all the farfetched movies you've reviewed?" Those had a certain presentation that allowed your mind to be at ease and accept the situation at hand. For example, this movie, for some reason, made me think of "Killer Klowns From Outer Space" since that is one of the most outlandish movies there ever was, and I kept thinking, it was more plausible for aliens that look like clowns and turn people into cotton candy to be real than this movies' premise! It's mostly the year that is the problem as nine years is hardly enough time to establish this much bullshit. Just think for a moment, would it be possible in the next nine years for a new government to come into power, society not to immediately crumble as a sideffect, a holiday that violates every law introduced and accepted into society to the point that it already has traditions, and at no point is there any resistance? And I need to emphasize that there are traditions! Seriously, who thought up this "holiday?" Coke and Hallmark? There's something so immature to the thinking of the plot which could have actually worked under different circumstances.

I could not suspend my disbelief long enough to stop thinking up reasons why this would never work. They pitch this notion that society has miraculously become idyllic due to allowing crime legal for a day, yet never address all the problems of cleaning up after the day. Imagine how much of a pain in the ass it is to clean up after a party and this would be a nationwide trashing. Hospitals, the police, etc. would be busy for weeks trying to deal with the aftermath. Then you have to deal with the casualties and how they may affect society due to their deaths. For example, I'm sure many would love to kill their bosses, so you'd have tons of businesses down their leaders. Plus, how do you cope with families that may have been destroyed along the way? Also, what is there to stop me from seeking revenge other times of the year? And why the fuck would I stop killing because some little bell rings? Who would be able to prove I didn't kill someone beforehand? There are like a million loopholes--I've never even heard of such a flawed plot. But screw that...the thing that irked me most was the only people who cannot be killed by the fucking purge are government leaders?! There is the obvious implication that a government collapse occurred in this future creating this dystopian reality, and yet I cannot kill the people most likely behind the cause for its creation? Pst, I scoff at that notion...I'd be after their heads first. And where does the rest of the world play into this stupid dreamworld? Are you honestly saying, movie, that the USA could collapse and not have collateral damage? And where is the damned resistance that would be trying to stop all of this? Not many people would put up with this bullshit even as zombified as the public has become. This is why I don't want to review movies like this because they force me to address my hatred for modern society and utter disdain for my already corrupt government! Ahhh, I need to relax. It's just a shitty movie, Ryan. Think of Rika--calm yourself.

Okay, so back to the whole immaturity of it all. Being able to commit any crime once a year would create more crime than it would prevent. For one, it establishes a lot of vengeful individuals who would want payback for whatever happened to them. But besides that, the movie has nooooo fucking clue what causes crime--in this country at least. Very briefly is there a radio host, in the background, discussing that the purge protects the rich and leaves the poor to fend for themselves in the onslaught. While that is a decent point, this movie fails to understand that the worst crimes are committed at the top rung of society through corporations and the government who can hide behind laws they create. On top of that, because they act through organizations, there isn't a single individual to blame per se. The imbalances in societal structure creates crime followed by the idiotic policies like drug laws that are funded by the government who are also the main importers of said drugs creating the so-called revolving door with the prisons. Oh forget it, I can ramble on all day about the senselessness of it all. Suffice to say, there was not a lot of thought going into the finer details of the plot, and it doesn't matter because this film did not demand any kind of deeper introspection. I'll give this film some credit in that respect--they never tried to be pretentious because they were too stupid to even try to propose some insight.

Needless to say, I hate this movie. Every single aspect of the plot is retarded and implausible without a clearer understanding of the inception. It's not far enough in the future to come off as possible considering the drastic change that is presented. While it may have been a cool concept at the heart of it all, it was put in the hands of an incompetent writer with an immature understanding of crime, society, and human nature. The worst aspect was the inclusion of the purgers who end up stealing the show in the worst of ways. Background plotlines are equally stupid and serve to pad out the film when that could have been replaced with shots of the whole country facing the purge. The only good points were that the production values were respectable, and I do think Ethan Hawke is a good actor in pretty much everything no matter how bad it is. Obviously avoid this hot mess unless you lack the capability to clearly see the abundantly visible flaws inherent to the plot. It wasn't called "The Purge" for nothing--I'd rather be purging all night than watch this shit ever again.

Notable Moment: When James rampages and kills a ton of purgers. If only this kind of action was what this movie were all about.

Final Rating: 4/10