Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hatchet III Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The police investigate the many deaths at Victor Crowley's house only to end up as more victims as Marybeth and a journalist attempt to end the curse.

Review: Something I've noticed about these films is that the makers appear to be so confused in the direction they want this franchise to go. You have the first film as an homage to '80s slashers, part two as a retread but trying to explore their own storyline more, and then you have this film as more of an action/slasher to the point that it bordered on a creature feature. As I already discussed, the writers want Victor to be like Jason, but they keep emphasizing that he's a ghost so it continue to never make absolute sense. This time around, Victor has become Jason on steroids as he's virtually a walking tank able to absorb all kinds of physical injury and regenerate almost immediately. This is especially frustrating and creates continuity errors when we see Victor go down after a single bullet in part one, and Zombie and Trent are able to hold their own in a fist fight against Victor in part two; in this entry, nothing can stop him and he can easily manhandle anyone without effort. But this isn't to say everything about this film was bad as it did a great number of things better than part two.

Once again, the film picks up immediately where the previous entry ended after Marybeth, played by my dear Danielle Harris, had blown away Victor's head. Victor quickly regenerates and Marybeth kills him yet again by cutting him in half on Victor's own giant chainsaw while taking a piece of his scalp before leaving the bayou. From here she turns herself into the police, for whatever reason, ranting about how she killed Victor Crowley. Fans of Ms. Harris should greatly appreciate the near nude body shot as all the blood is washed away, but, as much as I love her, I'm not a fan of her body-length tattoo. The sheriff, played excellently by Zach Galligan, gives one of the best monologues ever as he lays out the ridiculous plot to "Hatchet II" and demonstrates that the writers are fully aware of how idiotic and half-assed it was. The sheriff's ex-wife, a journalist, learns of Marybeth's run in with Victor and seeks vindication for her beliefs in the local legends as she probes Marybeth for information. While the two ladies discuss matters, the police have sent a large task force to investigate the many deaths and bodies saturating the bayou in Victor's wake. Even more new characters are introduced, in the same manner as the previous entries, as they have entertaining personalities and their own little quirks that make them interesting. I will say this, these films do not disappoint in regards to creative characters that do come off as realistic or at least that some good writing with implemented in their creations. Parry Shen also returns as a third character which was quite humorous as they address his resemblance to Justin's dead body.

The journalist has been convinced that Victor's ghost is trapped in a loop because he is forever seeking his father. She concludes that if the person responsible for Victor's death would give him Thomas Crowley's ashes then it would destroy the ghost once and for all. Since Sampson is dead, the only person left alive that can end the curse is none other than Marybeth. The journalist enlists the aid of a cop to retrieve the ashes as they force Marybeth to go back to the bayou to give the ashes to Victor. All the while this is occurring, the cops are being turned into mincemeat by Victor as he tears through them like a dinosaur or something. This is really annoying because he shouldn't be this powerful, but this was the direction they chose to go in. Eventually everyone is killed except Marybeth, again, as even she is brought close to death after Victor impales her torso onto a tree branch. She then smashes the urn that holds Thomas' ashes over Victor's head which does, in fact, kill him as he dissolves into sludge with only his skeleton remaining intact. Marybeth fears he will still resurrect so she poises to shoot him with a shotgun, but decides to shoot him anyway after he fails to regenerate. Parry Shen's character emerges alive with a rescue helicopter looming overhead, but Marybeth's ultimate fate lies unknown as she breathes weakly when the film ends.

I'm still disappointed that this franchise never continued with the homage route, but at least there was something new going on compared to part two. The pacing has definitely been tightened with more going on even if it's mostly shallow kill scenes. Speaking of which, the deaths are significantly better than the first two entries with much more creativity. The characters are still fun and unique and set themselves apart from the previous films so it never gets stale. The final defeat of Victor was satisfying assuming this is truly the end. And, of course, my dear Ms. Harris still turns in a performance with conviction. On the other hand, the story still felt weak and as if the writers were unsure of what to do with Victor since his plotline is paper thin, Victor was inconsistently too powerful and the filmed played out more like an action film, and the overall presentation was only slightly better than part two as a whole. I mean, this franchise has nothing on Jason, but I can appreciate their attempts. It might have been more amusing if each film further parodied the major franchises rather than drifting off into Victor's backstory which is not interesting or original in the slightest. As it stands, this is a better installment than part two, but nowhere near as fun as the original. I'd say it's worth checking out if you were turned off by part two, but if you couldn't even get into the original, what are you doing watching these films?!

Notable Moment: When we see Ben, somehow still alive, pop up only to immediately be dispensed with saying, "You gotta be fucking kidding me." It was great!

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Hatchet II Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After Marybeth narrowly escapes the clutches of Victor Crowley, she manages to band together a group of hunters to retrieve her father and brother's bodies.

Review: So after gaining a small, cult following, it wasn't much of a shock that a sequel would be made, but is it any good? Well, not so much. Actually, this film is more of a hit or miss depending on the scene or idea implemented as we pick up immediately at the cliffhanger from part one except we notice some immediate changes. The actress that played Marybeth, Tamara Feldman, has been replaced by my childhood crush, scream queen, and horror icon Danielle Harris. While I thought Ms. Feldman did a decent job, this is one of the few times where I'm not all bent out of shape over a replacement; I am still annoyed because I have a sense of continuity in my mind that an actor change screws up, but if it was going to happen, I'm glad the replacement was in the form of my dear Ms. Harris. Although, I should note, you notice something odd going on with Ms. Harris' eyebrows that I can't ignore. She appears to have developed whatever this thing is as an adult, but it's not a big deal to me; I just know others will point it out so I figured I mine as well address it. But back on general, the tone and atmosphere have also changed as the homage vibe has been abandoned in an effort to focus more on the film's own mythos surrounding Victor Crowley. I guess I'm okay with this choice of direction, but that was the main reason why I felt the first movie was as successful as it was; this film lacks that charm and attention to detail in various film nods.

We come to learn there was more to the Victor Crowley legend than we originally believed. Apparently Victor's father, now named Thomas, had been taking care of his dying wife in the bayou as he began to fuck the caregiver. Right before the wife died, she put a voodoo curse on the unborn baby as the caregiver died giving birth and obviously Victor was deformed. Later, it is revealed that Marybeth's father, Sampson, his brother, and some guy named Trent were the kids that accidentally led to Victor's death that fateful Halloween. A deeper understanding of the Crowley story is okay since it doesn't necessarily contradict what was explained in the first movie except that it provides a lame reason for why Victor was able to come back as a ghost. I have to say though, Kane Hodder, who plays Thomas and Victor, was looking as though he had no neck! What happened, dude? Anyway, other than these new plot elements, there really wasn't much of a story to this film which is the main detractor. I mean, you have Marybeth magically escaping only to run into Jack Cracker who dies too quickly. This is followed by Marybeth seeking out the aid of Tony Todd's character, Reverend Zombie, now in an expanded role. It's so stupid because even though Marybeth just left the bayou, she wants to go right back to get the bodies of her dad and brother. Uh, okay, wasn't that exactly what you tried doing in part one? Look how that turned out!

Zombie's plan is that if he can get Crowley to kill Trent and Marybeth's uncle, named Bob (uncle Bob?!), then that should appease the ghost. In order to accomplish this, Zombie lures in many other local alligator hunters as fodder to trick Trent into believing the scheme is legitimate while simultaneously convincing Marybeth to bring uncle Bob along. The audience is bombarded with many new characters which, to the film's credit, have somewhat entertaining personalities, but they aren't as memorable as the original cast. I especially liked Justin whom is the brother of the tour guide from part one except they are both played by Parry Shen. Other than a few token scenes and inside jokes, pretty much nothing happens for almost a full hour! This film is only 85 minutes with the credits and you can't even get to the main action until about the 55 minute mark?! Even with this in mind, the kills manage to be uninspired, too fast, and lack any kind of creativity that would have fit the characters you just spent an hour setting up. In the end everyone dies and you think it's finally over until Marybeth reveals that uncle Bob was just the guy's nickname and that her real uncle died years ago. Upon realizing this fact, Victor emerges to fight Zombie and kills him off with the best death of the film. Then Marybeth goes berserk and slashes at Victor with a hatchet until she blows his head off with a shotgun as the film cuts to black. As soon as the credits roll, you're immediately struck with this sense of wondering "what was the point?" Basically, this is the plot of part one except from Marybeth's perspective and the ghost tour has been replaced by hunters. Lame.

I don't know what happened here because this is the kind of shenanigans I'd expect if the film was made only a year or less after the first, but this had the time to be refined. In some ways, this film has a richer story than the original, but it takes too long to get going and has a general sense of pointlessness. The characters are not as interesting and the subtraction of the homage elements hurt the approach. Ms. Harris does a good job as usual, and I'm glad they added her, but I hate nonsensical changes like this especially when the director has kept the reason for the adjustment purposely vague. Eh, this was simply a mediocre film overall, and I can't really recommend it unless you already liked part one.

Notable Moment: When Jack Cracker is watching Shapiro's video and the hilarious shit that that idiot was recording with it. I mean, this scene is so unnecessary and is nothing more than filler, but it's really funny with some cameos.

Final Rating: 5/10

Hatchet Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of misfit travelers take an allegedly haunted boat tour as they stumble upon a real life ghost looking for blood.

Review: Think of this film as a parody/homage to '80s horror films with major emphasis on the "Friday the 13th" franchise (which I plan to get into very soon!). The presentation and style do not come off wholeheartedly as an '80s film would, but the quirkiness and entertainment value to the characters are a great send up. The villain, Victor Crowley, is a straightforward Jason nod right down to the fact that he is also played by Kane Hodder who is probably the most famous of the actors who donned the hockey mask. Victor's backstory, deformity, and overall presence are very much like Jason except that he makes more grunts and groans when taking damage unlike the silent "man behind the mask." If that weren't enough, you also have cameos from horror alumni such as Robert Englund and Tony Todd while there's a background character named Jack Cracker who is supposed to be like Crazy Ralph from "Friday the 13th."

The story is that some undisclosed amount of years ago, the deformed Victor Crowley lived in the Louisiana bayou with his father--sort of cut off from the world. The father kept Victor sheltered, but locals would still try to bully and bother the kid. I should note that Victor's dad is also played by Kane Hodder and that the young Victor is played by a woman oddly enough. So, one Halloween night a bunch of kids throw fireworks at Victor's house hoping to lure out the, now adult, Victor. Unexpectedly, the house caught on fire as Victor's father came home trying to rescue Victor. As the father tries to chop down the door with a hatchet, Victor stands up against the door when the hatchet slices through his head killing him. After ten years of a broken heart, the father dies and the ghost of Victor emerges to kill anyone who comes too close to his area of the bayou. We see the results firsthand of someone venturing too far into Crowley country as Robert Englund's character, Sampson, and his son die in the opening scene. Later we meet the ragtag group that goes on a haunted boat tour of the bayou that, of course, stumbles upon Victor. The main guys are Ben and Marcus visiting for Mardi Gras, then there is the local Marybeth, there is a wannabe "Girls Gone Wild" director with two dumbass girls accompanying him, a cliched, old tourist couple, and then the tour guide. Surprisingly, the fodder characters are sort of interesting and most are funny at times; the acting is decent enough and there are quite a few noticeable faces. After somehow getting the boat stuck, the group find themselves wandering near Crowley's house waiting to be picked off. We do learn a few slight twists such as Marybeth being Sampson's daughter looking for revenge, and the wannabe director was just some pervert guy. When everything is all said and done, the last people standing are Ben and Marybeth after Victor appears to be dead from impalement. Only moments later though, the two flee aboard a small boat that Victor attacks throwing Marybeth in the water as Ben is seemingly killed. The film ends with Victor holding on to a screaming Marybeth.

Victor's makeup effects are decent enough, looking kind of freaky, but he still looks too much like every other deformed hillbilly we've ever seen in film before despite him not being a hillbilly. The deaths are okay but nothing we haven't seen before and done better. Strangely, Victor takes damage from fighting people and can be hurt even if momentarily. I know they were trying to be as accurate to a Jason nod as possible, but Jason was presented more as a regenerating zombie whereby Victor is presented as a ghost so it doesn't fully work. Overall, I felt this film was able to create a kind of spiritual successor to the Jason franchise while supplying some solid moments; the details and nods scattered about showed that the makers were horror fans without a doubt. I liked the use of Louisiana and the bayou as a setting, but the Mardi Gras setting never contributed to the plot relevantly; also, discussing Halloween so often felt meaningless except to touch base with every famous slasher franchise. The film is extremely short with Victor coming off as a bit of a plot device to simply get the kills rolling rather than the full fledged drive to the story. This was some kind of problem in the writing because the majority of the story comes off more about Ben and Marcus then transitioning to be about Victor; the sequels would obviously fix this though. In the end, this was a better than expected homage to '80s slashers with some commendable moments and fun and engaging characters. But the main villain is nowhere near as memorable as they imagined, and there are a slew or problems with the presentation as they seemed to lose sight of what to focus on in the tributing process. With that said, this is a worthy modern slasher you should check out if you're a fan of the classics, but it's still nothing exceptional.

Notable Moment: When Marcus notices Jenna "itching" herself. It's funny because you know what Marcus is thinking and these kind of character nuances are always so funny to me.

Final Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Helldriver Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a comet crashes in Japan, half the population is turned into zombies that an android girl must stop by defeating her mother who has literally ripped out her heart.

Review: As you may have guessed from reading that ridiculous plot description, this is another one of those overly bloody splatterfests with cheap ass effects. Now I have already stressed that I don't really like these films overall with the exception of a few like "The Machine Girl" and "Deadball," but how does this film stand up to those? Not very well unfortunately. Considering the goal of most of these kind of movies is shock and awe, or whatever the hell they want to invoke out of the audience, I found myself bored and no longer surprised when I see random bullshit that makes no sense. I don't know what really went wrong here because the story had some potential to pull out many over the top moments, but never really delivered anything beyond the standard fare in this sub-genre. Or maybe that was the problem; it never raised the bar or introduced an element we hadn't watched before and, dare I say, played it safe? Is that even possible with these kind of films?

So, I mention "The Machine Girl" quite often when referring to over the top films from Japan, because I feel it is the best one out there and good for a comparison basis. The lead here, Kika, played by Yumiko Hara, is too bland without any real backstory or drive to her plight. Let's face it, she's no Minase Yashiro (yum!) as far as looks, talent, and presence are concerned, but she does the best with what she could. Turning her into some kind of android was okay, and I did love the notion of a chainsaw sword. But beyond a somewhat cute girl running around with a cool sword, there's nothing more to her character except that she wants revenge on her crazed mother who killed her dad and abused her while simultaneously being transformed into this zombie queen; oh, and then there's the whole stealing the heart issue but it never really has relevance to the plot. Her mother, Rikka (hey, that's too close to my precious Rika), played by the iconic Eihi Shiina of "Audition" fame, is mostly wasted as all she does is sort of rock back and forth and laugh; I don't know how else to explain it. The final battle between the two wasn't even as epic as it should have been despite a creative setup. All the other background characters aren't even worth mentioning since they're pretty much useless, and we have no sense for who they are. It's hard to explain, but the characters felt empty and with little conviction unlike my dear Ms. Yashiro who carried "The Machine Girl" splendidly while looking oh so delicious along the way! At the same time, the story plays out too straightforward (well about as conventional as these films go) with some kind of societal message I'm not fully grasping. I mean, there are moments of "what the fuck?" but those aren't phasing me at this point, and there was no real attempt to pull off some decent jokes, gags, or setups as "Deadball" successfully accomplished. You have alien zombies, an android girl with no heart, and all kinds of shenanigans and you can't even make that interesting? Plus, this film clocks in at nearly two hours which surprises me all the more that they couldn't bring something new to the table in all that time. Even the title card and opening credits don't roll until the 48 minute mark; although I did think that was a unique touch. I'm not even exaggerating, but I had to view this film in intervals, because I was getting so bored and I always watch every film to its conclusion...well, except for "Elizabeth Town" (I shudder at the thought!). The director/writer/everything under the sun is a veteran of this sub-genre to boot so I expected something original or at least amusing.

Overall, there are some okay ideas, like the chainsaw sword, and a few decent scenes worth viewing, but don't expect to be dazzled. The film is too long and boring when it should have filled that void with either humor or better action or both. The acting ranges from weak to acceptable and the characters are as one dimensional as they come. There's really no use criticizing the quality or production value since these kind of films always look so shitty, but, to be fair, that is half the charm and attraction. I don't know what else to say, because I simply feel this film should/could have been better. Damn it, the film is called "Helldriver" and there's hardly any driving, only one major car chase, and Kika only drives the car herself once! That fact should give you a good indication of how nonsensical many of the choices were. Eh, this is an easy pass for just about everyone including fans of the sub-genre, but if you feel inclined to watch anyway, just be aware of all that I've said.

Notable Moment: When Kika must fight Rikka atop a giant mass of zombies formed into one gigantic humanoid creature which eventually can fly. It sounds better than it turns out to be.

Final Rating: 4.5/10

Monday, August 26, 2013

Shadowless Sword (aka The Legend of the Shadowless Sword) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A skilled fighter must protect a lost prince from an army of assassins that seek to stop him from becoming king.

Review: As others have described, and I must agree, this is essentially a Korean version of a wuxia film. If you don't know what that means, it's basically a kind of sub-genre of Chinese action films (think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") but has a much broader meaning that you can explore on your own if interested. Personally, I'm not much of a fan of these kind of films for numerous reasons, but that's not to say that trying to be a wuxia film is an inherently bad thing. You simply need to be aware that you may go in expecting a more traditional action film and instead get that unrealistic, stylized form of fighting presented in wuxia films. However, with that said, this film did suffer from some kind of confusion as to what it wanted to be. There was an attempt to bring about a deep and thought provoking story, but, unfortunately, even with a nearly two hour running time, it failed to do anything more than show a typical good vs. evil plot with little to no reason for why the events were unfolding. So, once again, we are dealing with a mixed bag of good ideas dragged down by terrible execution.

Let's start with the good ideas first since that will help contrast the problems more precisely. What I noticed immediately is that the film looks beautiful; there are many great shots, high level production value, interesting costumes, elaborate sets, and an overall strong cinematography. All of the surface level elements are impressive and rival any big budget film out there. The fights and the choreography are pretty good although they are a bit too scattered; there was definitely a noticeable attempt to create distinct styles for each major character so you could see the differences to how each one approached battle. As for the characters themselves, well, the actors do their best to work with the material they're given. I can't fault the actors since most do a decent job of trying to stretch as much depth out of the one dimensional characters they're provided. The only character that gets any real backstory is the lead, Soha, played by the lovely So-yi Yoon, but even she can be summed up as you're typical stoic superhero; she has no flaws, she can't be beaten, she gives everything for the cause, and will lay down her life to save the prince. But where she shines is in why she became the way she is as we learn her parents were slain by the villains and that she was saved by the prince when he was a young warrior. Basically, it's his teachings that led her to be the way she is and that's why she's so dedicated to this mission. As for the prince, nicknamed Sosam, he starts off so fucking annoying constantly trying to get Soha killed, but gradually he returns to his hero roots with Soha's help. Thankfully, the romance is so subtle you could argue there wasn't even one, because, damn it, Soha deserves a better dude! The villains don't make a lot of sense except that they're trying to overthrow the kingdom and implement various mercenaries to do their bidding; the primary group of villains are known as the Killer-Blade Army. The leader of this army, Gun Hwa-pyung, is lame as hell since it's just the main dude from "Face!" But what I really liked was his main henchwoman, Mae, played by the beautiful Gi-yong Lee. So yet again, the main highlight of a film is the babes involved! Should have saw that fact coming a mile away. Finally, there was a great idea regarding the swords themselves and, in essence, the point of the title, but it is not explored properly when it could/should have been the central theme of the story. Basically, many cultures believed the sword was an extension of the warrior and that the sword could become good or evil depending on how it was used to the point that it could even have a mind of its own. This film attempts to address how Gun Hwa-pyung's sword has been empowered by vengeance and that Soha's has only been used in defense, but this all amounts to nothing; it doesn't really contribute to the story except to further show one is good and one is evil which was a huge wasted opportunity for something cool.

So I've already given you a taste of the problems while attempting to explain the good side of the film; this should already give you an indication of why I feel this was a mixed bag. The problems are pretty much all story related; I mean, seriously, this film is bordering two hours long and we can't even get some basic information on the few main characters?! Even though we kind of have a feel for Soha, we don't know how all the villains know her except by reputation. But nope, not even this works since Mae has some kind of personal vendetta against her for no reasons ever explained. Soha said she trained with many people, so, at best, we can assume one of them was Gun Hwa-pyung and that Mae was jealous...I guess? Plus, why is Soha so skilled? I guess we are to assume because she's so pure of heart and takes no satisfaction in killing. Mae could have been an excellent foil to Soha since they're both skilled female warriors, and there was the emphasis that they were rivals, but we know nothing about Mae except that she is mindlessly loyal to Gun Hwa-pyung; perhaps, because she loves him but who knows. Speaking of which, that little bitch kills Mae just to have a better shot at killing Soha! As for Gun Hwa-pyung, how did he learn to fight, how did he survive almost dying, why is he so obsessed with revenge even on people that had nothing to do with his dad's death? For a main villain, we know next to nothing about him, and I learned more about him from other reviews than from the actual film! As I said, Sosam is annoying as all fuck for almost an hour before he finally stops being such a douchebag. Just because he was some war hero as a teen doesn't give the character depth. What would have given him some real development is if we actually knew the reason why he went from that hero to the douchebag we see today. Oh, but all we get is, he was exiled and has to take care of himself. Aww boo fucking hoo! So that translates into trying to get the only person who gives a damn about you killed?! Bitch, I'll take Soha off your hands if you're that eager to get her killed! And I sure as hell wouldn't have betrayed Mae...what's with all these assholes?! If all this weren't bad enough, the movie idiotically kills off Soha after the final fight...ugh!

I was really expecting more from this film since the plot sounded so interesting. But the movie is too long and too boring since all the characters are doing is walking home and dealing with people trying to kill them along the way. Yeah, imagine that was the plot summary: sexy warrior spends two hour movie escorting big baby home so he can save the kingdom somehow even though all his predecessors were assassinated! I have already gone to great lengths to describe the story and character problems, but there is also the fact that the majority of the background characters look like "Pirates of the Caribbean" rejects; what's up with that? Beyond the characters, however, I must reiterate I was annoyed the whole shadowless sword angle was not explored properly since it would have been a better basis for the film. Lastly, the final shot felt like a scene right out of "Braveheart!" On the other hand, the film looks beautiful and was shot well, the fights are pretty good even if it all feels so unbelievable in that wuxia way, the two main girls are beautiful to see in action, the actors do turn in decent performances, and there were some good ideas even if lost at some point. I'd still recommend this film despite the flaws, but it helps to understand what kind of movie you're really getting into so that you won't end up as disappointed as I was.

Notable Moment: The best fight is when Soha and Mae face off in the center of some town. The two feel balanced and there's a lot of passion in this fight. Too bad we never learned why Mae hates Soha so much!

Final Rating: 6/10

Ms. Yoon as Soha.

Ms. Lee as Mae.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The House Where Evil Dwells Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After an American family moves into a home in rural Japan, they find themselves haunted by ghosts as zany antics ensue.

Review: When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage...oh wait, wrong movie! Well, to be fair, this film is much, much older than "The Grudge" or any of the "Ju-on" films for that matter, but the similarities are hard to ignore. But don't let that deceptive title confuse you--these ghosts are about as threatening as Casper and are more annoying than anything. House where evil dwells my ass! Actually, beyond surface level plot elements, this piece of shit has nothing on the "Ju-on" franchise, and this is pretty much run of the mill garbage I'd expect from the early '80s. I'd like to believe there were some good ideas originally imagined, but the execution is so weak and laughable I can't imagine why anyone would think this was the right direction to take this film. The quality is also so piss-poor I kept thinking it was probably a made for TV movie, but apparently this had a theatrical release at some point. Worse yet, this was based on a book, so there's that to  take into consideration.

So the manner in which the "evil" was created is a bit sketchy to say the least. About 150 years before the movie's present, some woman named Otami stole some magic totem from a witch and then gave it to her lover who was also her husband's disciple. The husband caught the two banging, killed them both, and then killed himself. I guess through the magic of the totem the three spirits remain in the home to basically just fuck with new occupants; the movie is not quite clear on this aspect. But you see, that's just it, all the ghosts do is screw with people; there doesn't appear to be any other aim except to be as annoying as possible. Sure, they begin to ruin the American family's relationship, but it's mostly because that family was so stupid to begin with. Otami is no Kayako that's for sure, and the other two goofball ghosts are equally pointless since they rarely do anything except act like idiots. It doesn't even entirely make sense either because Otami can appear outside of the house. I should probably mention the ghosts don't look scary at all and they possess the family members too easily even if to say one thing. I don't get it. What is the point to it all?! By the end, the three ghosts possess the husband, wife, and some friend, and reenact their original deaths in the most retarded manner imaginable. Now, if the ghosts' goal was to get to this point, why do it in such a roundabout way, and it only worked this way due to contrivances. There were other occupants mentioned to have lived in the house before so what became of them since no previous deaths were mentioned? Lastly, the daughter of the family appears to have been written out of the script at one point because she ends up in the hospital and is never seen from again.

Ugh, I guess there were a few okay things going on here. Otami is kind of '80s hot as is the wife I guess. There are some titties and some decent, this movie just sucks. The acting is bad, the effects are bad, the pacing is horrible, the ghosts make no sense and have little purpose, too much lame drama, and it bored me endlessly. I mean, the family friend was beyond dumb since his connection was never properly explained. He appears to be almost like a brother to the main guy yet is very willing to cheat with his wife while she's possessed by Otami. And how come the wife remembers the things she does but never addresses that she's not herself when doing them?! Plus, how do you live in Japan for years and not find a decent woman?! Come on fool, and then you steal your friend's wife? Don't even get me started on the exorcism scene and how ridiculously comedic that turns out to be. Actually, pretty much every scene is beyond pathetic and more humorous than scary. This is an easy pass for sure, but then again, I doubt anyone will really go out of their way to watch this mess.

Notable Moment: I guess when the daughter is being attacked by giant crabs. I mean, this movie is so full of stupid moments, but this has got to be the worst and you can see the string.

Final Rating: 3.5/10

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Top 10 Scariest Movies of All Time

Disclaimer: This list will obviously contain spoilers to films regarding many of their scariest moments so be aware of this fact! Also, this is all my opinion, and I'm sure many or most will disagree. Lastly, this is a list of films that scared me personally and is not representative of my favorite horror movies as a whole even though it will include many of my favorites.

So after viewing "The Conjuring" and feeling it was truly frightening, it really had me thinking about what are the scariest films to me. I have to say, assembling this list was incredibly difficult. I had to think long and hard about my life to figure out what movies genuinely scared me and still scare me without focusing on things that only scared me as a kid or whatever. I looked over my DVD collection, dwelled upon the many, many films I had watched, and even had to consult a list of over 2000 horror films just to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything; despite the size and thoroughness, I know that that list was still missing a lot of heavy hitters to boot. I should mention that looking over that list, realizing I had watched roughly 85% of the films, made me feel like a big dork, but, at the same time, made me want to watch the random films I have missed! So anyway, some of these films won't come as much of a surprise because I mention a few all the time, but it's not going to be your typical bullshit with "The Shining" (seriously people, it's not scary at all) or the cliched "The Exorcist" at the default number one position. Now I present my list of top 10 scariest movies and hope you enjoy!

Honorable mentions: There's no way I could narrow this list down without seriously considering quite a few contenders for the top spots. Realistically, there are so many films I wanted to add I could have probably made this a top 100 list easily, but maybe one day I will create a true, top horror films of all time list! So let me briefly throw out a few contenders, in no particular order, and why they didn't quite make the cut besides "The Conjuring." "The Others:" the twist is awesome, but the scares are far too scattered considering how long the film is. I did, however, absolutely love the scene with Victor messing with the curtains--great tension. "The Grudge 2:" everyone seems to hate this movie but Kayako looks awesome and there are some really great scares. On the other hand, there are too many stupid moments and a divided focus away from Kayako as other ghosts take the spotlight from time to time. "Pet Sematary:" this is one of those instances where I was much more frightened as a child than as a teen and adult especially of the Zelda character. It is a disturbing movie undoubtedly, but just nowhere near the level my nostalgia wants me to believe. "Paranormal Activity 3:" I am already the oddball who likes this one the best, but at the end of the day, altering the story and messing with the continuity is too much of a detraction despite the creative scares. "Sinister:" had there been more emphasis on Baghuul, I would have definitely added this to the list. It's a great movie full of some creepy moments, but it was not as scary as it could have been. "The Thing:" easily one of best sci-fi films in existence, but I feel that that aspect outshines the horror elements. The sense of dread is excellent, but at the end of the day, I'm more interested in learning about the creature's origin rather than being afraid. "Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County:" when I was younger, I was incredibly unsettled by the scene when the alien pops out from behind the door. This was a great, early found-footage film, but, in retrospect, this film is rather tame without consistent scares. And finally, "Stir of Echoes:" this would have been a lot more memorable if the ghost simply looked scarier. That scene where Kevin Bacon sees the ghost in the movie theater could have been legendary if done better with a scarier ghost!

10. Candyman: This is one of the few films on this list that I haven't reviewed yet and the one I debated about the most; after all, there were so many honorable mentions that could have taken this film's place. But what this film has going for it is that it successfully gets into your head and freaks you out. You find yourself afraid to look in the mirror and god forbid you have a medicine cabinet and that dreadful feeling when you shut the door and someone may be standing behind you! This film's tone and atmosphere are so dark that I have to commend it for creating an unsettling environment. Granted, the plot is essentially a timeless urban legend reworked, but it pulls off a noteworthy spin on the story while instilling fear long after the initial experience of the film. The only reason this film is so low on the list is because the Candyman himself just isn't scary looking. Sure, he's intimidating as hell and it's scary when he appears out of nowhere, but his look is nothing to be afraid of. Lastly, the early '90s were a terrible time for horror films, and I think that's a big reason this gem has gone mostly unnoticed over the years.

9. Insidious: The moment you see that title card you knew this film was going to be amazing. There's a lot going on throughout this film with multiple ghosts, great setups, a successful play on the imagination, memorable jump moments, and an excellent tone established early on. This film, and many on this list, excel at relentlessly spamming one scare after another to put the audience in an unforgiving sense of unease. And like the most successful horror films, "Insidious" manages to have you on edge during scenes where nothing happens and toys with the audience's expectations. The only reason why this film isn't ranked much higher was because many of the ghosts just look like regular people and aren't all that scary looking. Also, the demon does look too much like Darth Maul and it invokes more of a chuckle out of me than fright. If the sequel can amend these minor infractions, I may have to make room for it on this list!

8. The Exorcist: But Ryan, you just said you weren't going to have "The Exorcist" on the list! Okay, it's nowhere near number one in my book, but I can't deny that it is undoubtedly one of the scariest movies ever created. And let's face it, the makeup and special effects still hold up remarkably well to today's standards. The Regan character is truly frightening both in look and presentation, and her disturbing presence carries the film and stays with you long after the credits have rolled. I'm not a religious person, but I can put myself in the mindset of the audience and imagine how much more frightening it is to those that believe this level of possession is possible. But more so, the fear can also come from the notion of losing control of yourself and becoming something absolutely evil. But the main reason I have this so much lower than others would place it is due to various reasons. For one, I've grown up on this film and it's as if I grew out of being scared of it. And for two, those unbearably bad sequels seriously tarnished my image of the awesomeness of the original. With that said, I must, however, reiterate that this is still one of the best horror films out there and easily one of the scariest films of all time.

7. Coming Soon: I can't believe how few people are aware of this incredible film's existence. I guess because it's plot does sort of sound like a ripoff, but I assure anyone that this film is actually quite original with some creative ideas. The use of the movie theater as the backdrop to the horror was a nice touch and allows for some interesting scenarios. There are so many great moments, and, once they start rolling, they don't really let up until the last shot. The makeup effects for the ghost, Shomba, are excellent and she has a certain visceral look that makes her appear more realistic rather than ethereal like other ghosts. The only real complaint is that Shomba is the only ghost and source of scares in the movie so if she's not doing it for you then it's not going to work. I mean, even the best and most elaborate scares in the film rely on Shomba's presence so that's pretty much why this film is ranked where it's at. But, believe me, most people will probably find Shomba effectively creepy as I did. This film is just so scary and full of creativity I wish more people would check it out!

6. One Missed Call: To be fair, I kind of rank this film and "Coming Soon" as almost on the same level; the reason I ranked this film higher was because I felt it's best scene was better than "Coming Soon's" best. There was an interesting approach to this film's scares since each scene attempts to top the previous one. Meaning, this film builds up slowly until it gains enough traction to unleash one awesome scene after another as it reaches its nightmarish climax. But besides the bigger setups, there were many subtle moments that I feel enhance the tension since the audience doesn't know what will come next. The ghosts do look scary, but the zombie mom at the end was a great surprise and unnerving as well. As I originally discussed in my review, I really loved the makeup effects on the zombie because, with the accompanied lighting, they successfully make you wonder if she's just a part of the background or whether it's an actual actor in makeup. The film does end idiotically, but not enough to deter from the rollercoaster ride beforehand.

5. Jaws: If there's any film on this list that got to me on a primal level of fear, this is that entry. Let's face it, no one wants to be eaten alive, and it is probably the most horrific death I could possibly imagine for any individual other than, maybe, death by fire. Worse yet, you add in the fact that humans are so powerless in the water and accompany that by the timeless fear of the ocean and what lurks under the waves and you have horror movie infamy right there. And let's not overlook that giant ass shark, which was a bit of an exaggeration, but those teeth send one hell of a message. I'm not going to lie, I'm honestly never stepping foot in the ocean again because of this movie, and I know I'm not alone in this belief. "Jaws" was the first major summer blockbuster, a pop culture phenomenon, and one of the scariest movies ever conceived simply because it reached a base fear present in every audience goer. This film's place may fluctuate at some point, but rest assured, this is the one film I can say with certainty will always be on my list!

4. Ju-on: The Grudge 2: Say what? "The Grudge 2" gets an honorable mention and this film makes it this far up the list? Yeah, you know it! What can I say, I have a soft spot for Kayako or something. I've already gone over at great lengths the "Ju-on" franchise and why I feel it so good, but I'll admit this series is a hit or miss on whether or not it will scare a viewer. Out of the 8 movies, I believe this one truly represents the potential the story has to tell and plays the scares so perfectly and well paced. Besides Kayako running about, there were so many great ideas implemented even if there were a few nonsensical moments. Speaking of which, Kayako looks more menacing and creepy as she lurks in the shadows, jumps out, or slowly crawls toward you. There were just so many great scares and elaborate setups that I could not overlook this film's rightful place this high on the list.

3: Dead Silence: Of all the movies I've mentioned thus far, this is the film I feel is most underrated of all. Okay, well maybe only me and 10 other people have even heard of "Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County," but that's beside the point! "Dead Silence" works on so many levels it's hard to imagine why it is so overlooked while also providing a top-notch story with a lot of creativity and originality. You've got creepy dolls, one hell of a scary ghost, and even some clown action going on! There's pretty much something for everyone to be afraid of, and I was genuinely caught off guard by how scary this film turned out to be. Mary Shaw is one twisted fuck and is decked out in some amazing makeup effects that easily rival any other villain on this list. Furthermore, this film is completely relentless in the quick succession of scary scenes which made it one of the most terrifying films of all time to me.

2. The Ring: Yes, I'm talking about the remake for once; it's better--deal with it. Honestly, the memory of seeing this bad boy in the cinema is forever etched into my mind. I had only watched a trailer ahead of time in passing, and I have no idea what I think I saw because it sure as hell did not prepare me for the horror that awaited me! All my friends were scared shitless and some were closing their eyes and looking down during the more intense moments. Pretty much all the scariest movies to me are films I know absolutely nothing about when watching them. While I was obviously scared during the viewing, it wasn't until I was home did the real terror sink in. I remember one of my friends was paranoid as hell, and, since we were having a sleepover, a few didn't want to go to bed because they were so scared. This film worked on many levels because you had Samara looking freaky, a certain degree of unpredictability, and someone coming out of your TV is just creepy as fuck! But believe me, there is much more going on with this film than the legendary scene of Samara coming out of the TV. And, once again, I was still feeling the effects of watching this film days and even weeks after the fact. I guess it also didn't help that I went back to watch the movie in the cinema two more times!

And the number 1 scariest movie is...without a doubt, "Howling VII!" Yeah, it would be if I judged solely on the scary decision-making to bring together such a piece of shit movie.

No, the real scariest film of all time is none other than the film I mention all the time: "Shutter!" I'm talking about the original of course--not that pitiful piece of shit remake. I still remember watching "Shutter" for the first time and being alone just thinking this would be a quiet little evening. Oh how wrong I was! Honestly, it's all about Natre here; she's so scary looking and always popping up in the right moment to scare you shitless. I was truly scared while watching this film to the point that I had to sleep with the lights on. I would close my eyes, and I'd see Natre there and the fact that Natre comes at you while you're in bed is the worst part! Some films scare me with what you see, some rely on my imagination running wild, and then this film does both! I simply cannot praise this film enough because it is pure awesome, has a great story, some clever twists and turns, the best scare setups, and a great blend of jump scares, outright scares, and subtle background shots. I could never recommend this movie enough. This is what horror is all about ladies and gentlemen, and every horror fan should have given this one a shot by now!

Gremlins 2: The New Batch Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The gremlins are back, and this time they are spreading chaos throughout an expensive office building in New York City.

Review: I remember loving this movie as a kid, but then I realized just how stupid it was in comparison to the original. Now, it's not to say that this movie is terrible, but when compared to the greatness of the first movie, you notice the flaws more easily. Even the crew acknowledges most of the failure was due to taking too long to capitalize of the first "Gremlin's" success, but I would say the entire approach was the real problem. Rather than moving the story forward or trying to be bigger, the direction was to pretty much parody the ideas of the first film. I just don't understand the thinking in that decision since many regarded the first film so favorably despite its flaws; also, as the first film was comedic in nature, how exactly can you properly make fun of a movie that succeeded at being funny? The end result was the creation of a film that is a mixed bag of good ideas boggled down by lameness and this mocking tone of some of the better moments of the first entry.

Let's address the good things first. Obviously, and you knew I'd bring this up, the return of Phoebe Cates as Kate was the highlight of the film for me. Dare I say, she looks even sexier in the sequel! Oh Ms. Cates, you retired from acting far too soon. In fact, a fair amount of characters return: Billy, the Futtermans, the old Chinese man, and of course Gizmo; I wish Billy's parents had made appearances but whatever. There are a lot of new characters introduced and most are surprisingly entertaining and welcomed like Mr. Clamp and Fred; I should note there were quite a few cameos throughout the film as well that were definitely a nice touch. The gremlins this time are even better looking and more varied than the original. This was probably the only real improvement over the first film since the gremlins break into some experimental lab and all manner of freaks are created like the smart gremlin, spider one, and one made of lightning just to name a few. Although the original gremlins had a certain charm to them, I do prefer the special effects of this film, but the freak-gremlins are more of a novelty. The majority of the film is set in this technologically advanced office building that allows for some interesting and creative scenes. This contrast between the big city and small town is an interesting perspective and is executed decently enough. Lastly, there are a few select scenes that are amusing that mock the original like when the security team discusses the eating after midnight notion.

Okay, so where did this film go wrong? I think the best way I can sum it up is that this movie had no heart. For example, how do you take such a powerful and memorable scene from the first film like when Kate talks about why she hates Christmas and trivialize it by adding a scene trashing that monologue? Or the fact that the last movie ended with a message of responsibility only to have Billy completely careless and a goofball. Billy just felt totally out of character in general and Kate's reaction to the mogwai felt out of place too; the Marla character coming on to Billy was so random and pointless as well. Too many moments were way over the top and trying too hard to be funny at the expense of the first film. The introduction of the gremlins was rushed so fast and quite a few scenes are jumpy with incredibly sloppy editing. The female gremlin and the guy just going with it was a million times more disturbing for me than the violence or Kate's story in the first film. It's like the film was a hodgepodge of ideas that weren't entirely fleshed out with the sensation of many hands in the writing process. I don't know what it is, but this film has this emptiness I can't adequately express that makes it feel so mediocre. It's just this shell of the first film's framework with more emphasis on slapstick-esque comedy with sprinkles of good ideas strewn about. The charm, wonder, and imagination of the first film are definitely absent.

In the end, I can see why some would enjoy this film and why even I used to love it so much. There are many cool scenes and the gremlins themselves are bigger and badder than the first time around. However, the characters, story, and humor are way off compared to the first and significantly weaker to boot. There was a clear attempt to make a bigger film, but bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, and through this process all the charm was lost. Likewise, shitting all over the original, when it's a superior film, might not have been the best of ideas. I would still say this film is worth a view, and I would probably view it more favorably if it were a standalone film rather than a continuation of such a classic. And, well, it does have Ms. Cates giving it extra there's that. Eh, it's still better than the majority of the "Gremlins" knockoffs out there.

Notable Moment: Probably when Gizmo finally gets tough and kills Mohawk in his spider form. Mohawk was definitely the coolest looking of the gremlins even if he was defeated a little too easily.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Ms. Cates still looking oh so deliciously sexy!

Gremlins Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a young man is given a strange pet as a Christmas present, a quaint town is tormented by little creatures that wreak nothing but havoc.

Review: This is another of those films that possesses that '80s magic that allows the plot to work somehow even though it wouldn't during any other era; there's just this sort of charm and heart that shines out through the presentation and story. "Gremlins" is probably the penultimate family-horror movie out there, and, perhaps, even solidified the existence of the sub-genre itself. I know many label this movie as comedy-horror, which I most certainly agree with that, but this movie was marketed more toward the kiddies than, say, something like "Ghostbusters" was. It's also a widely known fact that this film, and a few others, helped establish the PG-13 rating in the USA due to wimpy parents being thrown off by the amount of violence. It's of note that the script went through multiple phases as it transitioned more away from straight horror and incorporated more kid-friendly ideas like Gizmo's character; originally, Gizmo was meant to turn into the Stripe character in gremlin form among many other alterations. If someone is interested in learning much more about the history of this film, the DVD commentary is educational and worth a listen. But before moving forward, there's something I wanted to mention that is near and dear to my heart. So, I have been talking about '80s hotties quite a bit on this blog, but I've been holding back on the one who is the hottest of them all. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the beautiful, talented, and sexy Ms. Phoebe Cates! Now while Ms. Cates has that bodacious body hidden away in this film, I can't ignore her presence. Is there any other girl who truly defined sexy in the '80s more than my dear Ms. Cates? All I have to say is "pool scene." 'Nuff said.

It's not that the story was original as the multiplying little creature plot had been done before and, at this point, has been copied endlessly, but the oddity to the presentation created a special blend of ideas that came together perfectly; applying Christmas as a backdrop definitely enhanced the charm I was discussing earlier. The town itself has this cozy feel accompanied by a wide variety of characters who felt mostly believable. However, the story begins in some random China town (I don't care that the sequel claims it was New York...clearly it was not) where an inventor named Rand Peltzer discovers Gizmo, who is a creature known as a mogwai, at a local antique shop. Convinced he must have Gizmo to give as a gift for his son, Billy, played by Zach Galligan, Rand convinces the grandson of the owner to give him Gizmo but explains there are certain rules one must abide by in order to take care of a mogwai. Those being: they hate bright lights and sunlight can kill them, don't let them get wet, and never feed them after midnight. Okay, let's address this now, we all know the so-called rules are one big plot hole and if you can overlook these glaring inconsistencies then the film will be much more enjoyable. Yes, I know, there's water vapor in the air, there's snow on the ground, there's water in the drinks the gremlins consume, Stripe in the pool should have multiplied infinitely, and well, the whole after midnight thing is nonsensical to say the least. But one way to forget all of this is to assume these are generic rules explained by a little boy and not necessarily 100% accurate. Also, it's worth mentioning that in the novelization of the film, the mogwai are actually genetically manufactured lifeforms by aliens so there's that to think about!

Billy makes for an okay lead since he's your typical nice guy. The relationship between him and Gizmo is cute but could have been explored more thoroughly. Likewise, Billy's romance with Kate, played by Ms. Cates, should have been developed better, but, as it stands, Kate makes for an excellent girl next door kind of love interest which was the vibe Ms. Cates typically invoked. The background characters are a nice touch and make the town feel more real and lively; Rand provides some decent scenes through his asinine inventions as well. One thing that always bothered me about the mogwai was why no one ever questioned what on earth they were or why was Gizmo the only non evil one? Well, as one would easily guess, all the rules are broken revealing that the cute and cuddly mogwai transform into grotesque gremlins who live to wreak havoc; actually, it's better to consider them agents of chaos than truly evil. I can see why some parents may have been bothered by the violence because the initial gremlins are dispatched of quite graphically with the likes of one being shoved in a blender, exploding in a microwave, and even a decapitation with the head landing in the fireplace. Once Stripe, the leader of the gremlins, multiplies hundreds of other gremlins, the real antics ensue as we see a wide variety of gags and setups. Even though most of the gremlins look exactly alike, there was this attention of detail to individualize as many of them as possible which I love; the quirky personalities of the random gremlins I think is one of the main reasons people remember this film so fondly. The true heart of the film is at this point when the gremlins are running amok and only Billy, Kate, and Gizmo can end the madness. While blowing up all the gremlins at once felt a bit convenient, the final showdown against Stripe was cool and enhanced the climax. Finally, the old man from the beginning coming back to collect Gizmo and provide some insightful wisdom made for a satisfying conclusion to add a certain layer of depth.

Overall, this film had a lot of advantages going for it that made it such a classic. The pacing is strong, the characters are likable, fantastic special effects for the gremlins, the main musical theme is catchy and appropriate, the action is good, the comedy and horror elements are balanced well even if some would disagree, it's heavy on the nostalgia, and it has Phoebe Cates! Sure the acting could have used some polishing, a little more character development, and obviously the aforementioned plot holes are glaring, but none of this really detracts much from the experience. I mean, seriously, how many other films out there are their entire premises a plot hole and the film is still as good and beloved? I definitely recommend this film since it works on many different levels whether it be horror, family, '80s awesomeness, creature feature, or even a holiday movie. Honestly, if it weren't for the huge ass plot holes, I would have rated this film even higher.

Notable Moment: When Kate tells us the tale of how she learned there was no Santa Claus and why she doesn't like Christmas. I can see why so many felt this scene is out of place, but it was maybe the most powerful moment in the film, and I'm glad the director fought to keep it in.

Final Rating: 8/10

The '80s goddess in the flesh: Ms. Cates!