Friday, January 31, 2014

Spirit Camp Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Bimbo cheerleaders go to some camp in the middle of nowhere as a lame killer conveniently emerges to dispatch of them.

Review: I checked this movie out on a whim since it was a recommendation on Amazon and clearly these dumb advertising algorithms need some work, because I thought this sucked. There were some favorable reviews, and the mention of a throwback vibe caught my attention, but I'm starting to debate the sincerity of these so-called horror fans. Plus, as much as I love the '80s, there are things simply not worth repeating. "But you're missing the point, Ryan, it was meant to be stupid" no, there's a big difference between trying to capture the, often times, ludicrous nature of '80s horror films and just being a piece of shit. The thing about low budget horror films is that they force ingenuity or they end up displaying why alleged film "critics" think the genre is stupid--this film is in the latter category. Worse yet, they tried to make this "Bring It On" (minus the amusing characters) meets "Sleepaway Camp" (minus the twist to the killer) with faint hints of Jason, or something, which was not working one bit.

I'll do a quick rundown of the story, because there's not much to tell. Basically, two cheerleaders were murdered a couple years ago, or whenever; honestly, it doesn't matter since it has no relevance even though this was supposed to be a "Friday the 13th" nod. Now a bunch of idiotic cheerleaders are meeting for whatever the hell a spirit camp is supposed to be. We are meant to like the main girl, because she's a tough rebel with a heart of gold, but I still wanted her to die since I don't care for weak cliches. The rest of the characters are stupid and/or a red herrings which is pointless, because the killer is beyond obvious to the point that I wonder if they realize how idiotic it was. There are quite a few retarded subplots that only serve to pad out the paper thin story to meet a regular running time and to bolster the body count. I think the girls are supposed to be hot, but they looked way too fake for me. I might have thought one chick was pretty good looking, but she was wearing Oompa Loompa brand spray tan for whatever reason. The kills are pathetic and borderline embarrassing, using repeated footage of an ax swing with the moon as a background; most kills are also offscreen with only a secondary shot of blood-laden victims. Needless to say, everyone dies until only the main girl is alive as she moronically fights the killer who toys way too much with her even though he killed everyone else quickly. The main girl somehow manages to blows up the killer, who was the gas station guy, and yet she goes unscathed for the most part. The movie ends revealing that the killer survived, through magic probably, and plans to kill the girl...I guess.

Honestly, if the killer had been anyone other than the most obvious character in the film, I would have rated this higher. You don't even have a reason to suspect the killer could be a cheerleader, because they made the killer a rapist as well. Speaking of which, we never learn why the killer is doing this nor do we know why he stopped killing up until now. Gotta love that deep and intricate plot--I mean, come on, this is the bare basics of slasher films they're failing at. But other than annoying characters, predictable plot points, and horrendous dialogue and acting, there is still a laundry list of reasons why this sucked. The movie tries to be funny but fails too often, coming off annoying. The so-called homage elements are few and far between and feel more like this movie is ripping them off. If you're going to have every cliche in the horror handbook while pretending to be humorous, you have to work with these cliches in an interesting way to make it ironic or something! The only really positive thing I can say about this movie was that one guy practically worked on every aspect of the film, so...uh...I suppose there exists the possibility this could have been better with a real crew onboard. I think it goes without saying to avoid this film which you will thank me, because the DVD is way too expensive.

Notable Moment: When the one cheerleader is screaming, thinking she's about to be killed, and keeps checking to see when, or if, it's going to happen. This was mildly clever, yet nothing else remotely as amusing ever happens again.

Final Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Black Waters of Echo's Pond Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After discovering and playing an old board game, partygoers find themselves acting strangely and turning on each other.

Review: Since Danielle Harris' appearance in "Among Friends" was so miniscule, I had to track down another film of hers to fill the void; thankfully, she has starred in a plethora of horror films to choose from that can satiate any fan's desires. With a ridiculous title like "The Black Waters of Echo's Pond" you'd think this would be something unique, but, instead, it comes off more as a mixture of "Jumanji" meets "Event Horizon." Oddly enough, there is another movie with a similar plot, called "Open Graves," that was made the same year...just throwing that out there. Eh, this movie's premise is kind of cool and things start off promising, but we spiral into cliche-land too quickly with no payoff. More annoyingly, Ms. Harris' name is used as a draw, as if she's the lead, but she serves more as a secondary character. In fact, I don't know who is supposed to be the main character since the person set up as the first victim turns out to be the only survivor.

The film begins with fake archeologists making stuff up as they go as they explore Turkish ruins in 1927. They claim that some mural provides instructions for a ritual that can open up a gateway to Pandemonium, which is the world of the Pans: Pan being the Greek god and his sons. Supposedly all kinds of fantasies can come true in Pandemonium as there is a pond that under its surface can be heaven, hell, etc. Funny, Pandemonium is a term invented in 1667 and is supposed to be the capital of hell, but who would have thunk it that Greeks actually invented it 2000 years prior and only this movie knows the truth! So these clowns of course create the ritual, that is apparently a board a game, on some island in Maine. Why Maine? Because the villain from "Kindergarten Cop" told them to, duh! Probably still trying to get back his stupid son or something. Anyway, those jackass archeologists started the game without him so he's pissed and goes out there to take his turn when he discovers everyone is dead except one dude who shoots "Kindergarten Cop" villain and then himself. Talk about a sore loser.

We cut to modern day and now the island is owned by the T-1000 who is letting his nephew and his idiotic friends hang out at his house. The characters are all annoying which sucks, because I always want to cheer for my darling Ms. Harris to come out on top. Everyone really hates Miguel from "Independence Day" for some reason especially Ms. Harris and the twins from "Grindhouse." I think it has something to do with him being a party animal after his father died from saving the world from aliens and leaving him a large inheritance from his crop dusting business. Eventually the group comes across the game in the basement, which was kind of out in the open and should have been discovered by someone over the years, and they start to play it because they burned the only DVD in the house. Everyone becomes extra bitchy, horny, and stupid the more they play the game as we see some creature, I guess is supposed to be Pan, being used as a transition shot. As things escalate, the game is able to possess an individual and you try and kill everyone around you. We think Miguel must surely be the first victim, since he stormed off all alone, but he turns out to be the last man standing; Ms. Harris lives longer than nearly everyone else unnecessarily, but I'm not complaining. Once Miguel has killed the last possessed person, he suddenly finds himself at the beginning when they first started to play the game. So does that mean nothing was real? He's in some kind of loop? Or they just didn't know how to end the movie? I guess that's the advantage of being a fighter pilot.

I don't know about this one. It's so hard to overlook the general stupidity that lurks at every corner of this film. The acting is all over the place with some people doing a commendable job while others are terrible. There is a lot of padding and pointlessness to many moments. They waste the potential of the game's ability to manifest things in favor of this possession bullshit; the notion of the game revealing secrets was also never implemented properly. We keep hearing a chainsaw revving up, but then it's seen not moving. Oh, and the T-1000 serves no purpose except as an extra face to attract more fans to watch since all he does is take down traps he set up on the island all night; although, he rightfully addresses how stupid this is...probably ad-libbing the lines. Okay, maybe I'm being overly harsh. There were some good ideas and the deaths were respectable. I also liked the creature that was supposed to be Pan running around even if he did absolutely nothing; his look was kind of scary so it's a shame he was not an active antagonist. Overall, this movie is slightly above average mostly due to its ideas and recognizable cast.

Notable Moment: When my dear Ms. Harris is chainsawed to death. I wasn't expecting her to die since it was so late in the movie.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kowai Onna (aka Unholy Women) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Three separate tales involving those unfortunate enough to cross the path of crazy bitches.

Review: Oh no, my least favorite kind of woman: the unholy persuasion! Chances are, if you're an avid Asian horror fan, you have either watched or heard of the "Rattle Rattle" segment from this film; this segment has definitely made its round of the internet while the rest of the stories have fallen by the wayside. It doesn't help, for me at least, that there was never a proper English release for some strange reason. However, given "Rattle Rattle's" notoriety, plenty of people seem to upload it online and it's fairly easy to track down through youtube and other sites. So how does the film hold up in its entirety and is "Rattle Rattle" as good and scary as people make it out to be? Let's find out!

Rattle Rattle: To kick things off we are introduced to a young woman, named Kanako, being dropped off near her apartment by her boyfriend/fiance/sugar daddy. She is then suddenly struck by something as she later awakens and runs into a little girl. Somewhat unnerved by the situation, she goes home and tries to forget about it until she hears an ominous voice and her boyfriend calls her warning that his ex-wife tried to stab him and has run off. Kanako notices a disturbing-looking woman, dressed in red, has broken into her apartment and is wielding a knife. Kanako manages to fend the woman off and flee her apartment only to discover an empty city with the exception of the woman in red roaming about--becoming more hideous and demonic with each encounter. This mysterious woman also appears to possess supernatural powers and gives off a rattling noise when she is close. Kanako sees individuals dressed in black, but they remain cold to her pleas for help. Eventually, Kanako is led by the little girl to an apartment where she throws herself out a window only to awaken at a hospital. Kanako learns a woman committed suicide and landed on her yet she, as Kanako claims, miraculously survived. Kanako believes this incident was a dream spawned by her anxiety regarding the boyfriend's ex-wife mixed with various emotions after realizing the little girl had lived close by to her and died; she also believes the woman who committed suicide may have been the mother of the little girl. When everything appears to be over, Kanako discovers that the little girl's mother was not the woman in red and she is baffled by who could the suicide jumper that hit her be. She suddenly comes across the woman in red who transforms into some kind of demon and you realize Kanako, in fact, was the one that landed on herself. Yeah, that makes total sense. I guess a paradoxical, demon time loop, that doesn't even fit the correct time of day, is a good way to close out an otherwise cool movie, right? There are quite a few fans out there that believe this is one of the scariest Asian horror movies out there, but, while I can see why they were so unsettled, I must humbly disagree. The woman in red looks cool and does become decently scary throughout the segment with commendable makeup effects, but the senselessness of the plotline hurts the overall experience. I don't mind that we never learn who or what the woman in red was, but the paradox is dumb, predictable, and, like I said, doesn't even fit the established story since Kanako was struck at night yet we clearly see it's daytime. It's a good effort, the best of the three tales, but does not live up to the hype.

Hagane: I hardly know how to explain this segment since this may be one of the weirdest stories known to film--only in Japan is all I can say! Mikio is a young guy working at an auto shop when he is asked by his boss to take his sister out on a date to which Mikio complies. When Mikio arrives at the dilapidated home of his boss, he sees the sister, Hagane, covered in a sack from the waist up and being pumped with an unidentified liquid; she later starts to sow feverishly as Mikio takes in the unusual visage. The boss implores Hagane to get ready for the date, but when she emerges from the house she is still wearing the sack over her upper torso but has on a short skirt below. Being the overly polite little bitch boy Mikio is, he is unable to properly express his concern over the bizarre nature of the situation and simply goes along with everything. Hagane does not speak, has a cricket crawl out of her skirt, and is an all around pain in the ass. After trying to make sense of the situation and amuse Hagane, they somehow find themselves close to having sex only for Mikio to be horrified by, what appears to be, entrails spilling out from under the sack as he tries to get a peek underneath. Noticing Mikio's hesitation, Hagane goes apeshit and smashes everything before running home. Later, it is revealed that Hagane is smitten with Mikio who rightfully quits the job and avoids the weirdos at all cost. We see a shot of the boss bathing Hagane who, in case you hadn't noticed, isn't exactly human. Unfortunately for Mikio, he is attacked by Hagane as she shoots darts at him in which he retaliates by beating her bitch ass. Hagane unleashes knives from within her sack that slash Mikio further pissing him off as he drops a rock on her and hits her repeatedly with a pipe. Well, at least he had sense enough to kill this monstrosity even if he's a bitch use waiting around all day for Sam and Dean to take care of her. For some reason Mikio still lingers outside all day as he sees Hagane limping along and throws her off a cliff. Hagane still isn't fucking dead and comes after Mikio who cowers in a corner as Hagane cries. Hagane then opens the sack and allows Mikio to look inside, but he is attacked by whatever and manages to pull himself free as he is now covered in scratches. Hagane then crawls at Mikio and absorbs or eats Mikio, because he's too stupid to keep fighting. The boss finds Hagane, collects her, and burns Mikio's belongings. The film ends with Hagane prancing around like a nutcase sometime later. Trust me, words cannot express the oddity that is this little film. We never get a look under the sack to see Hagane for ourselves, but since Hagane appears to mean "steel" we can assume she was some kind of robot or android; maybe she's an alien or just some kind of monstrosity from the lowest levels of hell. I'll give this segment major credit for being original, playing on the unknown, and simply running with the weirdness for all it's worth. Prepare for a big "what the fuck" by the end.

The Inheritance: With an infamously scary opening and a weirdo second act, you'd think the final story would somehow stand on its own, right? Wrong. Inheritance my ass. I don't even understand what the hell is going on here and it's really boring and not scary. They should have structured the segments with "Rattle Rattle" first, then this one, and saved "Hagane" for last. That would perfectly set the tone for this film--open scary, follow up with the weakest tale, then close out with the audience left thinking about the movie with "Hagane's" shenanigans. The plot this time is that a mother and her son are moving in with the grandma after a divorce. Don't worry about that plotline, because it becomes a red herring as to what is going on. The mom and the son start off with a good relationship until the mom finds some magically stupid scroll in a shed and is possessed or some shit. There is more unnecessary drama as the possessed mom is dating a social worker who serves no relevance to the plot even though he should. Later, the mom locks the son in the shed where he makes contact with the spirit of his uncle, who died when he was the son's age, since his grandma also was possessed by this scroll. The grandma frees the son who appears to be killed by the mom anyway. The movie ends with the audience seeing that the scroll depicts a mother holding her dead son in her arms as we realize this process was repeated twice as far as we know. Eh, nothing makes sense, everything feels pointless, and I was very unimpressed. The main reason why the rating is not higher for this bad boy is due to the huge weakness that is this segment.

In the end, there is this interesting "Twilight Zone" feel to the stories which is a good thing. Even though "The Inheritance" sucked, the other two tales still make this a worthwhile film to seek out. The acting is pretty good, the ideas are original, and they made decent use of a small budget. On the other hand, the three stories collectively make little sense and require the audience to draw all the conclusions which may or may not be a good thing. I originally watched this film out of order, starting with "Hagane," and spread out over a year or two so I don't think it's important to watch them as presented and may make for a better experience if you chose not to. Either way, this is a decent film with cool ideas well worth your time and it's free.

Notable Moment: I think I might have to declare the entire "Hagane" segment under this category, because the level of weird is off the fucking charts.

Final Rating: 6/10

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Noriko's Dinner Table Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a girl runs away from home she finds herself entangled with a seedy organization and the effect this has on her family.

Review: Even though this film is pitched as the sequel/prequel to "Suicide Club" it's actually more of a side-story with only loose connections. If you are looking for further answers or a continuation to the events of SC then expect to be severely disappointed. This film serves more as an expansion on the themes from SC while abandoning the mystery, intrigue, and horror elements in favor of drama and an examination of the family structure and society. In fact, I feel as though the little inferences we learn about the SC conflict with, at least my own, understanding of the first film. If you read my review for SC then you would know the elements I liked the most were the engaging mystery, intense atmosphere, and creative approach with an original story; removing all of this in favor of a two and half hour long family drama doesn't cut it for me. While I can appreciate a lot of the ideas they were trying to explore, this film and SC are not compatible in the least and will attract two totally different audiences.

The story divides its time between the perspective of four different characters and their journey together over about two years. The catalyst is Noriko, who is a rebellious teen seeking more out of life than her small town can offer. She stumbles upon a website where she talks with peers she feels she can connect with and eventually runs away to Tokyo to meet an online friend named Kumiko. Kumiko, who explains her origins like this is actually a sequel to "The Locker," is the leader, or higher up, in some organization that performs family role-playing; meaning, Kumiko and associates are paid to be whatever family member the client wishes them to be and act out whatever fantasy they wish. This may appear more devious than it really is since this movie is trying to stress the family connection and how individuals cannot accomplish them naturally. Slowly, Noriko becomes brainwashed and loses her sense of identity calling herself "Mitsuko" which has nothing to do with the Mistuko from SC (as far as I know). Somehow inspired by Noriko, and also lacking a sense of belonging, Yuka, Noriko's sister, follows in the same footsteps and joins up with this role-playing group; although it's important to note that Yuka's reasons are far different than Noriko's and retains a little more independence from the brainwashing.

Noriko and Yuka's father, Tetsuzo, only decides to track down the girls once their mother commits suicide, realizing a lot of what has transpired may be his fault. As a journalist, Tetsuzo comes across the suicide club or at least some bitch boy claiming to be a part of it. This is kind of where I start to get pissed off, because they greatly imply this organization that Kumiko operates is the suicide club! How can this be? There is a brief scene that shows the 54 schoolgirls killing themselves with Kumiko and Noriko present...are we to believe that these girls were acting out roles within the group? The movie wants you to think that. This might work in theory, but then what about the nurses and tons of random people around Japan that killed themselves? How the hell were they acting out roles? Plus, how would this connect to Dessert, the little kids, the rolls of flesh, and everything else "Suicide Club" proposes?! Sorry, but it just doesn't add up. Plus, if everyone who committed suicide was merely brainwashed, then why didn't Noriko kill herself or Kumiko either who flat out wants to die? And who or what fucking backs this damn organization?! Are you seriously trying to tell me that putting on a few acting gigs gave this group enough money and influence to establish Dessert, have little kids run the show, and supply some kind of subliminal messaging to brainwash people so that they take on roles to commit suicide even though supposedly they were already brainwashed in the first place?! Okay, I'm raging a bit now. Moving on, Tetsuzo arranges for the organization to role-play with him at a house he has staged to look like the family home and requests to have Noriko and Yuka as his daughters. When the girls arrive at the house, the brainwashing begins to wain as they feel their memories returning. Kumiko, suspecting something earlier, arranged to have flunkies kill Tetsuzo, but he manages to kill them all, because he's the man and they are called flunkies for a reason. The four have one final role-play together as a  happy family before going to sleep. In the morning, Yuka runs off still uncertain of her place in the world, Kumiko looks suspicious but may intend to kill herself given her apparent self-hatred or may have found whatever she was looking for in life, and Noriko reaches self-actualization, finally referring to herself as Noriko once more. In essence, the film leaves you, again, to figure out what it all means, but I don't care enough this time.

I may sound harsh, mostly because I feel as though the original notion of what SC represented is wasted, but I did like this movie for what it is. I know things can feel pretentious, and I would say some moments are, but there is an interesting look at society, family life, and what it's like to lose people close to you; however, the overly long running time did not help when these themes could have been presented more concisely without all the added layers of bullshit to appear artsy. The drama is moving though, and the characters are surprisingly compelling with excellent acting from the main four. The three girls are each beautiful, but it still kind of baffles me that the actress who played Kumiko has transitioned to porn; but, then again, she goes by the singular stage name, Tsugumi, so I guess it's not all that shocking. Also, while looking into the cast's background, this is like the hundredth time I was looking at an actor's filmography and noticed "Funky Forest" amongst their repertoire; I guess I need to finally watch that movie even though it looks like I will hate it. Overall, I would say this movie is worth watching, but probably if you have no expectations regarding its connection to "Suicide Club." You could easily watch this film first and not miss out on anything, but I'd suggest you pick and choose depending on your taste. "Suicide Club" is for horror and mystery fans while this film is for those who like drama and more in-depth characters to follow. I know there are definitely those out there that feel this is the stronger film, but I guess it depends on what you feel makes a film strong. For me, I'd go with "Suicide Club," but if you can truly appreciate both films for what they offer individually, then you will truly understand what the writer/director, Sion Sono, was striving to convey.

Notable Moment: When we run into one of the cult members briefly and learn just a tad bit more about what is going on. If only the whole film could have taken things further rather than leaving even more questions than answers.

Final Rating: 6/10

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Suicide Club (aka Suicide Circle) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After 54 schoolgirls jump in front of a train, committing suicide, detectives discover a mysterious subculture with a strange connection to a pop group.

Review: This is an extremely tough film to review, because there's so much material to cover combined with the fact you must interpret a lot of what is being depicted. While the unusual, if not bizarre, story can be confusing, I will try my best to provide a more concise understanding of what's happening with the disclaimer that I could be way off. With that, I want to say this is a wonderfully compelling and intriguing tale that nails the atmosphere flawlessly. You find yourself helplessly immersed in the mystery wanting to uncover the answers yourself as each new twist provides minor clues. There is a strong degree of introspection that may be lost in translation, as it pertains more to the Japanese audience and culture, but it leaves the viewer left thinking about the story long after the credits have finished rolling with universal themes. The only aspect this film is truly lacking in would be the random and unclear ending. I can't entirely fault the film for not delivering on the answers, as the audience is meant to figure them out, but not providing full closure does detract from the final experience.

The premise is that 54 schoolgirls (no, anything but the schoolgirls!) commit suicide by happily jumping in front of a train. Shortly thereafter, some nurses also commit suicide (nurses and schoolgirls?! nooooo) with detectives discovering large rolls of human flesh at both crime scenes. The giant rolls of flesh are formed from smaller chunks of skin sown together from hundreds of different individuals in which some belong to those who have committed suicide. Later, someone called "The Bat" contacts the detectives informing them that there is a mysterious website that does nothing but display colored dots in accordance with the suicides; the red and white dots refer to the amount of males and females that killed themselves. The detectives obviously believe there is a connection, but the higher ups see it as just the typical bullshit to expect from a crazy society, do not want to cause a panic, and/or are in denial. Over the next couple days numerous other suicides occur almost exclusively involving the youth as it appears trendy. Due to this, the media spreads the idea that there is a "suicide club" and the detectives, quietly, suspect as much too. At the same time, the detectives come across a girl named Mitsuko, who they believe knows more than she's telling about a possible suicide club as, we, the audience, realize there is a strange connection with a pop group called "Dessert." A little boy calls the detectives and warns there will be more suicides where the first group of girls died while hinting at a connection to what is going on. The detectives are led on a wild goose chase as more suicides occur elsewhere including the main detectives family. The little boy then calls again and explains, in the most vague way imaginable, why people are committing suicide; the detective then kills himself as a result. "The Bat" is then captured by '80s rock rejects led by a nutcase calling himself Genesis. Genesis proclaims himself to be the leader of the alleged suicide club and allows himself to be arrested by the police putting many, including the detectives, at ease that everything is over. Mitsuko goes to her boyfriend's house, who had also committed suicide, and notices a strange pattern and hidden message that was uncovered within the merchandise of Dessert. This leads Mitsuko to the backstage of a concert for Dessert where she is confronted by a group of little children who question her value as a human being and her understanding of herself. Pleased with her response, she is led to a bondage-looking guy who shaves off a slab of skin exactly like the pieces from the flesh rolls. When the detectives come across the next roll of skin, one of the detectives notices Mitsuko's piece due to her distinguishable tattoo. The detective tracks down Mistuko, believing she is going to commit suicide, and she gives him a strange look wondering why he would think she would commit suicide. The film then ends with Dessert disbanding and putting on one final performance.

Okay, so that's quite a bit to take in. Keep in mind these are my interpretations, but let me start with what is the suicide club itself. I see the club as cult-like and actually being anti-suicide, comprised of the little kids, Dessert, and whatever flunkies they assemble like bondage-man. The cult wants people to understand the true value of life, the connections all humans have with one another, and how we should interact with others personally. In essence, people are losing their connections to each other as well as themselves, due to stuff like the internet and more selfish thinking, and the cult is attempting to counter by spreading a message to stop this through Dessert, their songs, and the rolls of flesh. Either that, or they are emerging to simply bring to light the disconnected nature of modern humans and leave it in the hands of the individual to solve the problem. Dessert's songs have a message opposing the suicide culture and perhaps have brainwashing aspects not fully touched on. It's interesting to contrast the message presented in Dessert's songs compared to Genesis' song. The rolls of flesh are self-explanatory, but they represent how everyone is connected physically and spiritually and the circular nature shows this even more so; the English release would have fit the themes better with the alternate title: Suicide Circle.

So, if the cult represents the opposite of what the media proposes, why the suicides then? Well, it is perhaps a little bit of the trendy nature of it all combined with individuals realizing their lives have no meaning once they run into the suicide club. We are shown pieces of skin do belong to those who end up committing suicide anyway, so it is not simply discovering the cult that means you have reached some level of enlightenment. The cult helps guide you, but can't save you as the choice is fundamentally up to you. The one detective killing himself also points to this idea that once realizing you have lost your connection with your fellow man, you feel compelled to kill yourself. However, I can't fully make sense of why so many appear happy when killing themselves unless it is to point to the facade individuals maintain. I do wonder if there is some kind of supernatural force at work because this cult could not be organized by kids one way or another. The hypnotic nature of the songs, the sheer creation of an elaborate cult consisting of kids, and a few random shots here and there (like the kids looking at the flesh roll under a beam of light) do lend credence to the notion that there is something more at work, but this is just my opinion; some may think a supernatural force cheapens the impact of the film. Dessert's hidden message and the fact that they even exist further demonstrates my belief this thing could not be organized by kids alone. And adults running the show does not fit considering we see the kids doing everything how could this come into existence?

As for everything else, Genesis and his crew were a red herring and to further emphasize the trendy nature of the suicide club phenomenon. Mitsuko realized self-actualization and would not kill herself so she was kind of a character to take us to the final conclusion while demonstrating the police did not have a clue. "The Bat," while appearing to have a greater connection to the plot, was more of a contrivance and a plot device. The website is another distraction, maybe even controlled by Genesis since I can't remember if they fully explain it. The random bullshit like the kids hanging out in some playroom with baby chicks is up to the individual viewer to figure out what that shit means. I'm sure a few plot elements and visual choices were deliberately meant to add layers of depth that could not possibly be fathomed outside of the film's crew. Finally, aspects to the film aren't meant to be understood in a traditional sense as this a movie meant to shed insight on Japan's real suicide epidemic. It's a complicated problem and this film touches on a certain understanding of the situation.

Overall, this is a fantastic film, but it may not be for everyone. You are left without a lot of answers unless you try to figure them out on your own; I'd totally understand if people thought this film bordered on pretentious. There are also a few inconsistencies and story flaws that could have been improved upon or more thought out. But, for me, there are too many great elements at work that make this film so memorable and enjoyable. There is that grainy film quality I've discussed before, and it refines the tone and look they were striving for perfectly. The music is great especially the catchy little Dessert songs, the intrigue and atmosphere are so powerful, and the acting is believable and well done especially from horror alum, Ryo Ishibashi. "Suicide Club" is definitely one of the best thrillers Japan has to offer while simultaneously straddling the horror line. This is one of those movies you really have see for yourself so I highly recommend tracking it down and giving it a chance.

Notable Moment: I think it's kind of obvious, but the opening scene when the girls all jump in front of the train. It's such a shocking notion and sucks you into the story fairly quickly.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

9-9-81 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An unstable woman commits suicide after believing her fiance died, but her ghost becomes restless when realizing he faked the incident.

Review: Uh oh, it's another one of those movies. You know what I'm going to say here--say it with me--wasted potential! And this one sort of takes the cake for the most wasted potential I've seen in a long ass time. After "Sukob" set up the amazing idea of a ghostly flower-girl, I kept wondering when would we see a ghostly bride. Well, here it is and it totally blows. Okay, the look of the ghost is acceptable, not bad but definitely not what I had hoped, but her presentation is too inconsistent and heavily copies better ghosts. I would say my best way to interpret this ghost is 50% Kayako, 25% Natre, 24% every other Asian girl ghost ever, and 1% originality. Basically, some dude who could easily have any chick randomly bangs this girl, named Wi, who he knows is outright crazy. I guess sometimes you really have to do it all for the nookie! Although it was a bit extreme, the guy and Wi's monstrous friend concoct some plan to convince Wi the guy is dead so she will leave him alone as she has become quickly obsessed with him after one night of awkward banging. Since she had already become convinced they were getting married, she loses her mind, puts on her wedding gown and takes a swan dive off her apartment building's roof. The end. Just kidding...of course Wi comes back as a vengeful-ish ghost as the film plays out like "The Grudge" franchise with different individuals, out of chronological order, interacting with her. Too bad things only go down after this set up, but, hey, at least this ghost is more attractive than the likes of Natre and Kayako so there's that. Actually, come to think of it, this chick has a ton of admirers that want her yet she of course wants some rich playboy. This doesn't even fit the personality they establish for her, but I'll get into that.

Now if you think I'm being a whiny bitch simply because the look and approach of the ghost was not my desired choice, well there is another avenue of disappointment that should have been a slam dunk. Different directors, writers, etc. all worked on portions of the film in a makeshift pass-around story to tell one big story collectively. Sounds cool, right? This is the kind of thing you wish would happen more often, right? Instead we get a total mess of a plot, which contributes to these inconsistencies I mentioned, but, more so, the entire tone and direction of the film goes all over the place and completely loses its way by the end. On top of that, you truly feel the hands of multiple people trying to sway the story to their vision, and, as a result, you have attempted scares at first, somewhat amusing and overly comical moments, and then trying to win best drama out of the blue two minutes later. You can't have a ghost that wants revenge, goes all Kayako, spares a dude who had a crush on her, chills out with her parents, toys with a cop, and can also possess! For the love of fuck, pick something and stick with it! I guess the real question is who designed the overall concept about a ghostly bride, and in what order were the segments written?

I just can't wrap my mind around how this went so wrong. Did nobody discuss anything with each other? I mean, you have Wi starting off as almost a tease, this prized hot chick with random dudes jacking off to her, then make her this unhinged nutcase. Plus, Wi deserved what she got! Yeah, I'm going there. She's so dumb she talks to someone who's like, "Hi I'm your lover-boy's mom...yeah, he's dead" and you believe it without question?! Yeah, get on that fucking roof and jump and spare the world your idiocy! And then Wi's parents should have known how crazy their daughter was and not let her off on her own. I should also mention the movie just ends out of nowhere in a way to actually create a plot hole; so don't hold your breath over at least a satisfying ending. The last scene involves a detective investigating the murders surrounding Wi's suicide and he feels there's a ghost involved. But then the final shot implies he gives up, yet in a different segment, we see him still on the case so...yeah, okay. I suppose you could loosely create a scenario that explains this but whatever. And why the hell is this movie called "9-9-81?" Is that Wi's birthday? Does this have significance to Thai people? Am I missing something? Is it supposed to be 666 upside down and in a roundabout way? Did they mean to put 9x9=81?

If this movie has taught me anything it's that you do not screw a chick with anti-psychotic medication out in the open, and who says she's saving herself for marriage only to come back a minute later wearing a veil and says now she can bang. I appreciate and even like the attempt they were going for with this one, but everything falls flat and turns into a mess. The ghost isn't that scary, almost nothing makes sense with contradictory moments, tone shifts too often without consistency, and they wasted potential especially in regard to the ghost bride concept. But, to be fair, the style to the film is good, there were good ideas, the humorous moments were genuinely funny, and the actors were pretty good. Overall, this falls under the slightly better than average category only for the attempt to do something different. I'm going to say pass this one up unless you are unbothered by nonsensical inconsistencies all movie long all the while ending the film out of nowhere.

Notable Moment: Probably the banter between the "Aunties" that live in the apartment complex. They deliver some great lines, but they also kill the atmosphere more than once.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, January 20, 2014

Among Friends Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of friends are invited to a murder mystery party only to find themselves caught up in a night of secrets and mayhem.

Review: How could I pass up the opportunity to watch and review the directorial debut from my childhood crush, and scream queen, Danielle Harris? Although Ms. Harris does not star in the movie itself, I still had high expectations nonetheless, and she does a decent job on a first attempt. Unfortunately, this film is mostly mediocre, but it is redeemed by a likable villain, cool cameos, and an outright '80s homage. I think the biggest problem is that the plot is too closely a cross between the original "April Fools Day" and "Truth or Die" without enough material to differentiate itself. At the same time, the actors are predominantly individuals who have worked with Ms. Harris in the past, and I don't think a lot of these are good choices; nobody brings their A-game, aside from the villain, or plays their part with enough conviction given the material. I should note that the characters themselves are one dimensional so I can't entirely fault the actors. The movie also suffers from a slow start, and, considering this is a slasher of sorts, there is only one onscreen kill. On the plus side, that one death is Kane Hodder's character...but, then again, what is one to do with a dancing Kane Hodder other than to kill it?

The story is that a group of sluts and assholes, who are allegedly friends, meet up for a party that is themed as an '80s murder mystery. While this would make for a promising premise, a lot of the '80s aspects are wasted with only vague references to a few movies and the clothes the characters wear. I would have preferred they played up this angle more significantly with maybe emphasis on some classic movies that could correlate to this film's plot. Anyway, the party starts off simplistic enough until the group gathers for dinner only to realize they have been drugged and cannot move their bodies from the waist down. The villain, named Bernadette, has been recording the misgivings of the group and plans to reveal their actions to one another. Her scheme is that each time someone asks a question she will inflict increasing amounts of pain. More so, if she declares someone needs punishment, she wants one of the group members to agree that the person deserves said punishment, thus, given how unlikable and idiotic these characters are, they easily turn on each other. The other problem going on is that, other than the guy who raped a chick, nobody did anything that bad unless Bernadette had more material she didn't touch on. By the end, one of the characters, who appeared to be dying, suddenly emerges and chokes out Bernadette momentarily. This is absurdly stupid, because this girl was bleeding to death for hours, is small in stature, and Bernadette already demonstrated a show of strength lifting up one of the guys who fell on the ground. Predictably, while freeing the group, this character realizes how horrible these individuals are and leaves them to their fate. During the end credits we see Bernadette plotting another party.

I know I'm sounding pretty harsh on a film I actually did like, but let me explain how Bernadette almost single handedly salvages the film and definitely steals the show. Interestingly, Bernadette is played by the writer of this film, Alyssa Lobit, and she successfully brings to life an enigmatic and personable villain. While Ms. Lobit is responsible for many of the story's problems, I kind of forgive her for doing double work and bringing to life an awesome villain. Lots of nuances like a quivering lip, neck cracking, crazed stares, and a creepy smile go a long way to enhance the already sadistically amusing Bernadette as she drops one-liners galore in a truly over the top performance. I'll give you an idea of the kind of dialogue she's delivering with genuine delight:  (after taking off one guy's wig) "That was just going to annoy me all night.", "Here, I'll give you an example of a rhetorical question. Are you stupid?", (looking for scissors) "Tongue...that is how you castrate a lesbian." At first I was on the fence about her ability to pull this character off, but the funnier she became, and her presentation of this morally driven killer, started to come off increasingly sexier; oh these bad girls always do it for me! I've read reviews where people were confused as to why Bernadette was doing all of this, but I thought it was kind of obvious she's a serial killer and has done this before and intends to continue. As for motive, besides being crazy, there are lots of hints strewn about that add more intrigue to her character. For example: she hates being called "Bernie," she hates to be called "sick," refers to the "meat" she serves as belonging to "some sick bastard who touched his little girl one too many times," is mad at bystanders to victimization, and discusses how rape will usually occur with someone you know. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume she was molested by her dad, killed him, and has been exacting her own brand of justice upon the idiots she encounters as there seems to be a great abundance of them populating the landscape. The last thing I'll say regarding Ms. Lobit is that I wonder if she's our technical first Asian female killer (outside of actual Asian horror)? I've watched too many movies to recall--it's all a blur at this point.

Overall, I can see why this would disappoint long time fans of Ms. Harris, but I think she did a great job on a first outing. This collaboration with Ms. Lobit was awesome, and I'd love to see them do more work, but hopefully they can learn from the mistakes made this time around. What this film had going for it was a nostalgic tone, interesting ideas, a sense of comradery with the crew, amusing background cameos, and, of course, Ms. Lobit's portrayal of Bernadette. On the other hand, the story felt unoriginal, the characters are annoying, the acting was shoddy at times, and there was a general sense of wasted potential. If you're a big fan of Ms. Harris, definitely check this bad boy out, but I would say this is a hit or miss outside of that fact especially if you don't even like the Bernadette character; I would say the average audience member is going to think this is typical direct to DVD quality.

Notable Moment: When we see a cameo by not only my dear Ms. Harris in her "Halloween 4" outfit but also an appearance by Michael fucking Biehn throwing a tantrum. I loooove it!

Final Rating: 6/10

Bonus: I wanted to mention that this review was meant for a long time ago, but blogger deleted the first one when I was about 90% done with it. I was pissed and skipped over this review until I felt collected enough to start it over. This is the second time this bullshit has happened! Oh, and all it took to delete everything was to press "undo" one time! Why the hell would a simple editing feature somehow clean the slate?! Oh and happy birthday to my darling little goddess, Rika Ishikawa!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ghost Train (aka Otoshimono) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A young girl seeks to unravel the mystery surrounding an allegedly haunted train tunnel after her sister goes missing.

Review: I've already mentioned this film a few times this month, so here it is finally; oh, and I hope no one was too hyped, because this movie is just so-so. At a glance, this film will appear to be nothing more than the usual gimmicks we've seen a thousand or more times before. Creepy, long haired ghost woman? Check. Ghost kiddies? Check. Cute, borderline hot, lead character that is supposedly a friendless "loser?" Check. Weird supernatural being that predates humanity with vague references to Lovecraftian lore? Che--wait, what?! So just when you think this movie is cookie cutter all the way, you get a curveball in the final act that tries to help this film stand out against the crowd. While this would seemingly be fine and dandy, the film tries to tackle way too much material while never properly seeing any of its many subplots through to their entirety.

The story is that people occasionally find possessions belonging to one Yaeko Aonuma which in turn leads to them being haunted by a cliched ghost girl until they disappear (off to Kayako-land I suppose); not so surprisingly, the ghost girl is Yaeko, but we can get into that issue later. So our lead, Nana, played by the lovely Erika Sawajiri, uses the train station that is being haunted by these items along with her sister, Noriko, as they visit their ailing mother. This whole dying mother plotline is beyond weak, has little association to the story except as a plot device, and to make Nana appear more endearing...I guess. Not learning from her little boyfriend's mistake in the opening scene, Noriko picks up a rail pass that belonged to Yaeko, and, you guessed it, goes missing. I'm sorry, but this was all Nana's fault. Who lets a 10 year old run around the town, boarding trains and such, all by their lonesome? Although, at this point, isn't having an encounter with a ghost girl almost a right of passage? Besides Nana and Noriko, we are introduced to a conductor, named Shunichi, who has seen the ghost, and Kanae, a dumbass schoolmate of Nana, who inadvertently is given one of Yaeko's items by her douchebag boyfriend. And what do we have here? Why is there a random background character who was also in "Death Train" (from "Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror" which I already covered!)? Did you get lost on your way to the set, hunny? This isn't a sequel. And she's still overacting like crazy--and she lives too?! What in the hell?

There are many stupid moments that serve to pad out the film like Nana and Kanae's overly sentimental "friendship," Shunichi feeling guilty about pretending not to see a ghost when Nana confronts him, and Kanae's boyfriend who somehow becomes possessed before dying. But, at the same time, some random scenes help to make things appear more intriguing like Shunichi's coworker who has been chronicling the history of the ghost, the realization that the train tunnels had to curve around something mysteriously buried, and the introduction of yet another character, Kumi, a mother whose son also picked up Yaeko's rail pass, played by Aya Sugimoto. Unfortunately, no skin being shown this time from Ms. Sugimoto, but she's still milfing it up. Eventually the group believes the key to this haunting has to do with Yaeko dying and perhaps returning her possessions would end things. This would appear to include a baby since she was pregnant when she died; okay, I'm not even going to pretend that makes any sense nor could that baby have feasibly survived. Kanae is later killed, and Nana, Shunichi, and Kumi go into the tunnels to somehow magically appease the spirit of Yaeko.

This is when things really get interesting as Nana has a vision of Yaeko also being killed by a supernatural force and then stumbles upon some kind of ruins buried where the train tracks had to curve just as Shunichi's coworker mentioned. Nana finds a weird statue that she recalls had been appearing in photos of those that picked up Yaeko's items. She also discovers a massive pile of dead bodies, that we assume were accumulating since the tunnel had been dug up, with Noriko, still alive somehow, at the top. Yaeko's spirit attacks once more, but Kumi somehow kills Yaeko and herself while revealing she was, in fact, Yaeko's child that did survive. Nana and Noriko try to flee, but they are pursued by the mountain of dead bodies that all come to life. When you think surely Nana is a goner, Shunichi saves her, they all make it out safe and sound, and later Shunichi blows up the tunnel. The film then surprisingly ends on a happy note with no final zinger as Nana's mom recovers, Noriko is safe, and Nana reflects on her "friendship" with Kanae. Since the film leaves way too many unanswered questions, I'll throw out my interpretation. Long ago the ruins we see would have been built either by the Ainu (the indigenous people of Japan), or by some human culture lost to time because they were dealing with supernatural forces. Since the film presents some H.P. Lovecraft references, it would appear they were implying the statue may have been alive and I'm going to say was, what is referred to as, a "Great Old One." These are like evil forces of the universe and there is a plethora of information out there if you're interested. I'm thinking the being in question may have been some creature called "Xcthol" who kind of fits the look of the statue, but others could fit the bill. So thousands of years after this temple becomes forgotten, tunnel workers disturb the ruins with deadly consequences resulting in them building tracks around the ruins. Then this force somehow controls its victims and brings them back or takes their form and collects more victims for whatever reason. This would have been the case with Yaeko. Why any of this would occur, well, I don't know--it was all for the lulz maybe.

Overall, this film was mostly mediocre made better through an added twist despite not making much sense and leaving a lot to be desired. Was this film ambitious? Yes. Did it succeed at what it was trying to accomplish? No. This movie was meant to be pretty big too, because it was pitched as releasing in Korea before Japan, which is rare, and its English release even got a dub (which sucks by the way), which is usually reserved for the biggest hits. I think this would have worked better had they broken the material up into two movies rather than trying to squeeze so many subplots into one 90 minute movie. The mystery is engaging, there was originality in spite of the cliches, and the pacing is good even with the corny sentimental moments. On the other hand, the effects were a bit weak at times, too much going on with no clarity, still relied on many cliches, certain plotlines make no sense and involve contrivances, and the vision of the story was not effectively realized. I still think this film is worth checking out, because it offers an offbeat tale that goes in a direction you wouldn't typically expect from Asian horror. It has it faults, however, so be wary of this fact.

Notable Moment: I don't know if they do this intentionally in Japan or it is a lame cliche they fall into, but there is a scene when Nana and Shunichi are talking about what's going on. Nana has a super, high-pitch whiny voice and keeps pushing on Shunichi. You kind of have to see it to know what I'm talking about, but I can't be the only one that has picked up on this situation happening more than once in Japanese film and TV, right?  Where the girl is either sad or mad and gets so fucking whiny and either lightly hits the dude or pushes him? Whatever, I see this shit all the time! Anyway, what makes this scene stand out is that Shunichi somehow falls over from this bullshit and it made me burst out laughing.

Final Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Epitaph Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: At the end of a man's life, he reminisces about the strange occurrences he experienced at a hospital as a young medical student.

Review: Okay, this is the final Netflix deletion movie unless they suddenly get rid of more in the future, and I tried to save the best for last. Although this isn't an outright anthology film, it pretty much follows that formula with mild overlap between the stories; I guess they figured the stories would intertwine in a more meaningful way, but that is not openly apparent. Some of the ideas are really creative, and there is at least one big scare during each segment, but there is this sensation they are borrowing heavily from other Korean films with serious emphasis on "A Tale of Two Sisters." And to confound things more you have that annoying K-horror cliche of nothing making any sense.

Since I do view this as an unofficial anthology, I will tackle the film by its three acts. Keep in mind the stories are meant to all be taking place at the same hospital, during the same couple days, and involve the same characters for the most part. There is a makeshift wraparound built into the first act as we begin with some old doctor finding his journal or something from his youth as a med student. We see the man interacting with his daughter, but there is a mysterious Japanese schoolgirl always at his side that is never acknowledged. Through narration, we learn he dies that night as we cut back to 1942 and see the strange incidents that occurred at this hospital he trained under. Although this is probably the weakest story between the three acts, it still offers a somewhat offbeat story (though, still not entirely unheard of in the realm of horror). The man is close with the director of the hospital which we can assume is why he can be such a slacker and have no repercussions. Unfortunately, there is no attempt to include this favoritism and slacker behavior into the story; I guess this is supposed to be character development? The man is betrothed to some Japanese girl he's never met, or only met once, at the behest of the director. The girl appears to have committed suicide, but I could never understand if it was because she didn't want to get married or loved someone else. They keep mentioning another guy, but then where was his body? Anyway, the man does not realize she is his fiancee when he deals with her body in the morgue and finds himself strangely drawn to her beauty. But before anything of significance can arise, we learn the director performed some kind of ritual to marry the ghost of the girl to the man. Either way, there is a cool scare when the girl first makes her presence known, but the plot goes nowhere and basically just ends with, "Well, he has a ghost attached to him. Good luck with that." At the end of the movie, we cut back to the beginning scenes where the man tries to talk to the ghost. He implies the ghost had killed his other wives and wanted to know why, but it just ends with her staring at him and then the man drops dead. Eh. Everything looks good in the film as a whole, the music is good, that old, WWII era feel is done surprisingly well, and these stories always have you guessing.

The second act was scarier and tried to tackle less explored concepts like survivor's guilt and the Electra complex. The most respected doctor at the hospital is given a young girl for a patient that is plagued by nightmares after her family was killed in a car accident. The girl, who does a fantastic job by the way, sees visions of her mother looking sadistic and soaked in blood while other strange images haunt her. But the dreams go beyond simply keeping the girl from sleeping as they also have a physical affect on her body bringing her closer to death. Through prodding of the girl and the crash we learn that her mother was remarrying some guy. The girl saw the couple having sex and appeared to develop her own attachment to the stepfather. On the day of the accident, the girl was being bratty and tried to grab onto the stepfather while he was driving at the moment an old woman was crossing the road. After immediately killing the stepfather and old woman, the girl's mother carried her to safety until she died leaving the girl obviously traumatized by the guilt she felt for setting the events into motion; this is on top of whatever emotions she feels for being attracted to the stepfather and rivaling her mother. Then the girl is haunted by one more nightmare until she dies from shock or something as a result of her inability to cope with the guilt or the ghosts got to her. Instead of leaving things well enough alone, the doctor is then shown walking home one night, is hit by a car, and sees the dead girl standing where she had been in a photo he had of her. Uh okay. What is that supposed to mean? Couldn't this have simply been the tragic tale of a misguided girl, and it is left up the imagination of the audience of whether it was ghosts or guilt that killed her? You just had to throw in that shot. The cinematography and special effects are awesome during this act as we see beautiful scenery and interesting ideas successfully realized.

The last act is the one that mirrors "A Tale of Two Sisters" a little too closely. Two married doctors appear to have an idyllic life full of romance until the husband notices the wife has no shadow. I don't know what he thinks of her, because he seems scared but does nothing. Throughout the film we heard rumors of a serial killer targeting Japanese soldiers which, to no shock, we discover is the wife. The husband tries to stop the wife, but has visions of himself committing the murders; he also finds wounds on himself inflicted by one of the victims and becomes confused. The husband then comes to the conclusion his wife was killed during surgery on some Japanese officer and he believes her spirit is trapped inside of him--controlling him to commit the murders as revenge of some sort. The husband then confesses to a Japanese officer overseeing the hospital, but the husband attacks the officer when he comes to arrest him. When the husband becomes cornered, he is trying to kill some med student as he claims he can't control the spirit of his wife. Then in yet another little twisteroo, it is revealed that the husband was the one who really died during that surgery, and the wife has become confused as to who she really is. Oh no, crazy dissociative identity disorder with a double twisteroony! Seriously, this plays off embarrassingly like "A Tale of Two Sisters" which had only come out a few years prior and was/is like the biggest Korean movie there is! They knew what they were doing. Regardless, the story plays out kind of cool with the same style and look this film pulls off well enough.

A couple final words I wanted to mention was that I did skip over a few overlap moments like how the main Japanese officer was the one that hit the doctor that was taking care of the little girl, the director ends up committing suicide, etc. But the attempts to tie the stories together were too weak; these scenes feel like the characters are forcibly crossing paths rather than all the stories coming together. You'd think, considering they're all at the same hospital, this wouldn't have been too hard. Anyway, the stories aren't the best, don't bring much new to the table, and have K-horror cliched endings, but they are presented beautifully. The acting, set designs, tone, atmosphere, music, and cinematography are top-notched. Although I enjoyed the film, there was definitely a higher quality in the technical aspects of the film when compared to the storytelling. Nonetheless, I would recommend this for the sheer elegance of the look while being a hidden anthology with slightly above average tales.

Notable Moment: During the second act when Asako has visions of her dead mother. The mother is pretty creepy and the imagery is awesome.

Final Rating: 6/10

Bonus: What I would have done, and what this film inspires me to write: I felt like the setup was really good but wasted. I propose making some kind of anthology tale whereby you have a morgue attendant receive multiple bodies all at once. I figure make the victims all female and maybe go with a working title of something like "The Midnight Girls." The morgue attendant looks over the bodies one at a time as we go over the events that led to each victim's death. Definitely have crossover, and I already have ideas of how the actions of each character would lead to the others' demise indirectly. I'm thinking 3 tales would be good with the extra wraparound involving the morgue attendant. It could end with the morgue attendant noticing one more body that was unaccounted for. I could go the corny cliche route of it being his own body and then tell his tale, but I feel like it would be better to have someone he recognizes and have it reflect and connect to subtle dialogue that this morgue attendant would be saying during the wraparound and in between segments. Sound cool enough? Maybe if I write it up I could post on here.

Blood (aka Blood: The Ultimate Death) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: While trying to solve a cold case murder, a detective stumbles upon a feud between vampires.

Review: Well, I took too long to review this one before Netflix got rid of it, but you can track it down through other means (Amazon has it used for only a few dollars) if you feel so inclined. I don't know what to make of this movie, because it doesn't seem to make up its mind as to what it would like to be. You have a lot of softcore porn scenes, random bouts of action, the weirdest love triangle, a desire to instill a gothic feel in a feeble "Dracula" nod, a surprise ending, and the general sense of a film with an identity crisis. I can appreciate certain elements they were striving for, but, more often than not, I was utterly perplexed by the direction this film continued to take. But on a side note, I already mentioned how I would review a film called "Ghost Train," and that coincidentally stars the same actress from this movie, Aya Sugimoto. Everything's coming up Milhouse!

I hate to admit it (well, not really), but the best part of this film is the fan service. Those who are familiar with Ms. Sugimoto's work should expect to see some skin from her, and this film is no different. I have to say, Ms. Sugimoto is looking pretty damn good for her age and easily holds her own against the random chicks that end up being dinner for the villain. But as much as Ms. Sugimoto was holding my attention with her milf self, I was drawn to her maid, who looks a little more my style, played by a certain Ms. Sayo Yamaguchi. Unfortunately for me, and everyone else, my dear Ms. Yamaguchi does not show any skin, but she is clad in a mildly sexy outfit, kicks some major ass, and has mesmerizing blue eyes since she's supposed to be drinking vampire blood. More bad news though as I learned this is Ms. Yamaguchi's one and only acting role as far as any source in English I could track down claims. Say it ain't so?! Alright, all ogling aside, this movie does boast actor extraordinaire, Kanji Tsuda as the lead, who appears to be in every other Japanese movie. Of course I recognized him from his work in "Ju-on: The Grudge," but I didn't realize just how many movies he has done including shit I reviewed already (seriously,where was he in the "The Locker?"). The other best thing about this film is the surprise ending. The whole movie long you have this retarded, nonsensical, ill-defined, half assed love triangle between the main vampire, Miyako (Ms. Sugimoto), her former companion, Ukyo, and Mr. Tsuda's character, Hoshino. It gets so girly with the two guys fighting for her love, and she's hiding in a room pretending to wish such horror would end, when, in reality, she's fucking loving every moment of it. My darling Ms. Yamaguchi ends up sacrificing herself to save Hoshino, then Ukyo lets Hoshino kill him, and you think it will end with Hoshino getting back to banging the mess out of Miyako, but nope. He actually kills Miyako and then goes fishing--sort of--the end. Well, that's one way to end things. Okay, other than all the bullshit, the film looks good with some decent set designs even if not entirely thought out. I did like the imagery while the guys screwed Ms. Sugimoto because it looked kind of...dreamy and surreal. I guess that's the best way to describe that. I swear I was not just staring with my mouth hanging open! For realzies!

I may have made this movie sound humorously appealing with all the hype on the ladies, but let me lay out why this movie was still in the mediocre range even with frequent titties bouncing around. There are so many stupid moments in the story I don't care to list them all. The vampire mythology makes no sense in this incarnation; the vampires appear to have no weaknesses, but their powers are inconsistent and they seem easy to kill. Supposedly, vampires can regenerate from anything unless you burn them and put the ashes in a lead box (yeah okay), and even then they live on as some kind of disembodied souls. I don't know. The love triangle is lame--like cheap, romance novel levels of lame. Ukyo is a whiny little bitch who needs to get staked by Blade, and I can swoop in and have Ms. Yamaguchi for myself (hey, I can dream). There are roughly three fight scenes that come out of nowhere and feel beyond staged; the final battle is especially lengthy and eye roll-inducing. I don't get it, random fights do not fit the tone at all. The murder that sets the story in motion gets brushed under the rug, makes no sense, and is stupid. Plus, if Miyako's face is in the public, wouldn't people notice she's not aging?! There is some crap about Hoshino and Ukyo having a rare blood type that lets them become vampires, but come on. And we never learn jack about where Miyako came from, why she's the way she is, or whether or not there were ever any other vampires. There is an indication that Miyako has killed many people, but we get no details. And the biggest offense...the movie pointlessly killed off my precious Ms. Yamaguchi!

From a distance, this film looks good with a whole lot of eye candy, but at a closer inspection we see a shallow story surrounded by one dimensional characters and cliches galore. While I have to give extra points for the ladies, you know it's bad when they're pretty much all that's salvaging the film as a whole. There were good ideas, and, under certain conditions, these ideas could have been presented more coherently and with more depth. There were times when it felt like they wanted to invoke the feelings of classic vampire films, but then we'd jump to some random scene that totally killed the mood. Underneath the mess I sense a good film, because it starts off promising but goes downhill all too fast. I'd say check this one out if you're enticed by the ladies involved or you like the idea of pathetic love triangles, but keep in mind this is nothing near a porno. If even the ladies aren't working their magic for you, easily pass this one up.

Notable Moment: The ending of course. Given the tone of the film, you really don't see it coming.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

The alluring Ms. Yamaguchi; too bad she has yet to do another film.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Evil Twin Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a girl awakens from a coma, she finds herself and her village haunted by the ghost of her dead twin sister.

Review: This is another movie going away on Netflix, but maybe these movies are simply leaving the streaming service? Eh, oh well. While this movie is nowhere near as incoherent as "Ghost Photos," it is plagued by its own stupidity in the main plot. It's really sad, because there are a lot of cool things going on in this film and most of the more idiotic elements could easily be corrected with slight adjustments. I especially liked the setting being some older point in Korean history; forgive me for not recognizing Korean time periods based on clothes, but if anyone could help me know what year this is supposed to be, I'd appreciate it! The ghost does look scary, even if a bit Kayako-esque, and she has a few original moments to shine which is great. Also the production value, cinematography, and acting were excellent for what was probably a low budget film.

So if there were so many good elements, what went wrong? Well, the biggest problem is the mystery regarding the twins and the complete asinine nature that drives the story. The film establishes that there were twin girls of some rich family and one was good, Hyo-jin, and one was the "evil twin," So-yeon. I know that sounds stupid from the offset, and as it should considering the girls are only 7 years old! Yes, if they tried to make the girl look like a sociopath I'd understand, but instead she is merely presented as a brat doing stupid shit like stealing a bracelet. Besides, she's only seven years old for fuck's sake and spoiled to boot! Wouldn't it be normal to expect her to grow out of such bratty ways? Anyway, some incident occurred resulting in Hyo-jin drowning and So-yeon surviving but in a coma for 10 years. This is just ridiculous, because I don't see how they were medically equipped to take care of a comatose little girl for a decade. But forget all that, because the story is that once the evil twin awakens, she is acting nice and the ghost of the good twin appears and is killing people. This wouldn't be too bad if everyone wasn't acting like assholes to this poor girl like she's the devil incarnate. Some dude that, apparently, was betrothed to Hyo-jin remembers how "evil" the living twin was and is pissed that he'd have to marry this girl instead. This whole movie you see flashbacks and hear references to how evil this twin was as if she was tearing up the town last week. Does no one in this town think it odd that they called this kid evil and that it was 10 years ago? I know it might sound like I'm exaggerating here, but, seriously, these people refer to this twin as if she's Voldemort or something. This becomes really annoying when people are getting mad at the living twin believing she is responsible for the deaths by the ghost, since, she is supposed to be the evil twin after all.

It gets worse because you discover, with no shock, that the living twin is the good twin, Hyo-jin, and that it was So-yeon that died; no explanation on the coma though. The reason why no one knew which twin really lived was because the mom saved who she thought was the evil twin (her favorite) and deliberately let the other drown not realizing she mixed them up. This whole mama drama, which felt like a scene out of "The Good Son," comes out of left field in the final moments when it should have been more present in the film. There is also never an explanation for why the ghost looks adult or didn't do anything until after the other twin awakens; you also never understand what was the whole idea behind this "prank" that led to the drowning. Then there is this unspoken idea that the ghost is killing people connected to her death all '80s slasher style. I feel like there were so many holes that emerge all of a sudden at the end when things should be wrapping up more concisely. Bonus: I hope you can make sense of the ramblings I'm writing, because I tried to describe these twins in the least confusing manner possible.

I want to like this film for trying to tell a different kind of story in an almost fairy tale-esque way, but there are so many idiotic plot points. You know, if you simply knock off the zero and instead of ten years ago, you pretend it was 1 year ago, this plot would flow significantly more smoothly. Most of the technical aspects to the film work effectively and are done quite well. The main girl who plays both twins, Shin-hye Park, was exceptional and nearly carries the film with the aid of the intrigue, but all the good aspects can't completely compensate for the plot problems. I would say check this one out if it sounds remotely interesting, but understand the story has some serious faults and the scares do not occur often enough to make it worthwhile for that alone.

Notable Moment: When So-yeon's mother is combing her hair and a face emerges from the hair; it was unexpected and sort of original.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Ghost Photos Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After her grandfather's death, a young woman notices a ghost appearing in the photos she takes.

Review: In light of Netflix apparently getting rid of numerous titles in the coming days, I figured I mine as well watch and review a few before they go bye bye. Well, with alternate titles floating around, no wikipedia page, no imdb page, and very little information, is it really a shock that a movie like this is being taken away? The moment you see those horrendous subtitles you will probably find yourself wondering why was this even on Netflix to begin with; this film is on DVD too, so I can't imagine who the fuck was responsible for these pathetic subtitles! Even with the groundwork looking shaky as hell, was there a gem waiting to be discovered? Of course not! I'd like to say this could be classified under V-cinema, but this feels more made-for-TV. What's worse is that this film comes off as a weak and boring ripoff of a multitude of other Asian horror movies with special attention to "One Missed Call" and "The Grudge."

It's really hard to explain, but it's as if everyone involved with making this movie was as bored with the material as I was to watch it. I mean, if you get a chance to watch this, you will notice this slow, uninterested tone to the events even when things are supposed to be scary. Even the ghost looks bored out of her mind! Besides bad direction, the plot is a complete fucking mess with too many subplots that eventually serve as filler for a movie that's only like 70 minutes long. I will do my best to sum up this incoherent nonsense: the main girl's grandfather recently died at the same moment her parents are seemingly separating in the weirdest manner possible. Her brother and father are staying at the grandfather's house while the mom and main girl move to some new house. All of this family drama is pointless as you will discover. Another useless plotline is that there is some kidnapper on the loose abducting little girls which, seriously, does not contribute to the plot one bit except as some kind of red herring. The main story involves some ghostly woman in a photo that the siblings discover at the grandfather's house that they believe may be connected his death; the grandfather's death and what he may have known gets brushed over and has no resolution whatsoever. Then there is some random teacher investigating the photo for the main girl who goes off on his own little subplot as if he will be connected to the ghost but nope. Then there is something about the main girl's friend being the ghost in the photo--but before she actually died? I don't know. Then there is some kind of reference to a camera, the friend hearing the story about her own ghost, the friend's crazy mom, school drama, mama drama, the main girl's brother dying, the main girl seeing her own ghostly self, and somehow the main girl dies and ends the movie doing a reverse moonwalk--okay, maybe I couldn't make sense of anything! All I can say is they failed...miserably. The music was kind of decent though, and I liked the approach to this being an ordinary part of Japan rather than the city or boonies.

I wanted to rate this movie much lower, but I can't fault the movie for having shitacular subtitles, and because they played it so straight; I've seen movies on this level that crank up the schlock, but this film attempted to maintain a consistently dark atmosphere. While this movie isn't as overt with the material it's stealing, don't let that fact make you believe you are getting anything more than scares and ideas we've seen hundreds of times. There were too many subplots that pad out this film when it could have been successfully condensed into a mediocre episode of some TV show. With all things considered, the plot still makes no fucking sense and feels pointless. Definitely don't waste your time with this one.

Notable Moment: When you first see the ghost in the forest. It's been done before, and better, but they tried.

Final Rating: 4/10

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pacific Rim Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Human-piloted robots must battle giant monsters invading Earth from a dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific ocean.

Review: I had intended to review this film back when it first hit theaters, but I was too caught up in my fandom of the material and wanted to wait for a second viewing for a more objective opinion; this same thing happened to me with "Man of Steel" which I'll get around to someday. Well, I'm happy to say this movie is just as badass as the day I first saw it! It's like seeing a live-action anime, that geeks like me have been dreaming about for years, at long last come into reality; now if only we could get that rumored "Robotech" ("Macross" for the purists) movie that's been in production hell for a decade. Some critics think "Pacific Rim" is a ripoff, but they fail to realize this is the ultimate homage to mecha-themed anime, especially the likes of "Neon Genesis Evangelion," and giant monster movies such as the "Godzilla" franchise. Sure, the plot isn't anything to write home about, but it's pure monster smashing fun from start to finish and you can't go wrong there!

So the story isn't really that complicated as there is a dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific ocean that allows giant monsters known as Kaiju to enter our world and wreak havoc. Since conventional weaponry did little damage to them, caused massive amounts of damage in the ensuing skirmish, and had the unintended side effect of spilling the Kaiju's toxic blood, the world's governments combined their resources to create giant robots, called Jaegers, to fight the Kaiju head to head. The Jaegers have a neural interface to the controls, but since this process is draining on a single person, the Jaegers employ two pilots sharing the controls. The main character, Raleigh, is sort of a washed up pilot after his brother's death, but he has the unique experience of being one of the few people to pilot a Jaeger solo. This leads to him coming out of retirement to pilot his old mech once more with the aid of his love interest, Mako, played by the awkwardly sexy Rinko Kikuchi. Since there are only a handful of Jaeger left, humanity faces its last ditch effort to defeat the Kaiju. The vast majority of the film is the CGI battle royale of the human-piloted Jaegers trying to stop the final Kaiju before Earth becomes completely overrun by the creatures. Eventually we learn that the Kaiju are biological weapons used by an alien race bent on conquering the world in the most unconventional manner ever. By the end, well, I think you can probably guess how a special effects driven summer blockbuster is going to end, right? Everyone dies. The end. Just kidding! Of course the heroes beat the Kaiju, Raleigh blows up the aliens, gets the girl, and cue "Star Wars"-esque celebration! Oh yeah baby!

You'd be surprised by how many aspects make a ridiculous plot like this work somehow. Obviously the effects are gorgeous--this was never going to work if things didn't look believable. The action gets your adrenaline pumping, remains constant, and you never notice that this film is over two hours long; you will most certainly not be disappointed in this regard. The looks of the Kaiju and Jaegers are impressive with some interesting and stylized designs; I really love the main Jaeger, Gypsy Danger, but I wish that Crimson Typhoon received more screen time before going down. Even though the plot and characters can come off as over the top, most of the actors bring utter conviction to their roles making things feel all the more awesome. I need to give special consideration for Ms. Kikuchi and Idris Elba, who plays the Marshal; these two really brought their characters to life and had an unusual relationship dynamic that should be explored more often whereby he was like her father figure/mentor. Even the background and secondary characters are fun and personable like the doctors that study the Kaiju; there are often times you want more backstory as is the case with the Chinese brothers or Herc. The only downside is that I wish there was a better lead even though I know Charlie Hunnam can act much better than this. Finally, there are so many nods, winks, and deliberate fan service strewn about this film in reference to other movies, anime, and franchises you could rack your brain trying to make all the connections; the general audience will not pick up on a lot, but dorks like me appreciate these details.

There are definitely flaws like the fact that the aliens supposedly invaded during the dinosaur eras and yet are still up to the same plan hundreds of millions of years later thanks to bull shit global warming? Yeah okay. Shouldn't they have advanced a bit between then and now, died off, or forgot about Earth? If you go into this film expecting anything more than a CGI spectacle, you will probably be sorely disappointed, but if you know that this is the equivalent of a live-action anime, then you should expect to have a good time. You've got cool characters, great visuals and art designs, a typical hero saves the day/gets the girl plot, kickass monsters and mechs, and relentless action to keep you engaged. Far from perfect, but if anything about this film is enticing you as far as action or wanting to see robots fight giant monsters, just watch this movie already! Hell, even if you thought this movie looked stupid, I bet you will be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this film is.

Notable Moment: The opening moments when we first see how the Kaiju came to our world and how the humans reacted by building the Jaegers. I wish more time had been spent on this material and the early stages of fighting the Kaiju.

Final Rating: 7/10

End of the Line (2007) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of strangers, trapped in subway tunnels, are hunted by a religious cult as they believe the Apocalypse has begun.

Review: If you're looking for a cool horror film that, like, 99.9% of people have never even heard of, then this is probably that movie for you. Brought to us by the fine folks in Canada, this movie is a surprising blood bath of mayhem mixed with my beloved apocalyptic introspection. Although a lot of the plot elements feel inspired from many other films, there is a sensation of originality in both the direction and presentation that makes the whole experience feel refreshing. It's kind of funny (well, not really), because I already have two reviews waiting in the wings that loosely involve trains. Then I plan to review a Japanese horror movie called "Ghost Train" that reminded me of "End of the Line" when I read the plot description. So what is this--some kind of horror and trains month? Oh god, I'm such a dork...

Essentially, the story is that random people riding a late night train come to a sudden stop in subway tunnels when all hell breaks loose figuratively and literally (possibly). The lead, Karen, a nurse, is seeing visions of monstrous beings and of her dead patient who committed suicide earlier that night and left an ominous final message. But come on Karen, what other outcome would you expect for a mentally unstable, tiny Asian girl wearing a miniskirt at night in a horror movie?! A quiet evening in her Hello Kitty pajamas reading "The Notebook?!" Anyway, we are introduced to many characters as we learn a brainwashed cult of religious fanatics are onboard the train and have been activated in a manner of speaking. The cult's insane leader believes the Apocalypse has begun and, in order to save the souls of humanity, they must kill everyone they see before the demons can claim them. The passengers must unite and fight for their lives in order to escape the endless tunnels alive. But do they face a greater threat above? Are Karen's visions true? Has the Apocalypse truly begun? Oh shit don't leave me hanging!

Probably the best aspect to this film is that the action starts rolling immediately and relentlessly continues until around the 50 minute mark, where the characters take a slight breather, only to come out swinging even harder. The atmosphere and intrigue are done superbly putting the audience in the right frame of mind to bask in the crazy storyline; there is a lot of room for speculation, but a careful understanding of the events will reveal the truth despite how much I wish it hadn't. There is that washed out, grainy as fuck look to the film quality that makes the movie look decades older than it really is; if you didn't know the date, you'd swear it was 1991 or something. As I've said before regarding this infamous, shitty film quality, it can work in a movie's favor which it does here--adding to that end of the world tension the film tries to convey. The effects are pretty good despite what some naysayers would have you believe; even the demons looked pretty damn good, when compared to CGI, even though they only get precious moments to shine. Practical effects are always the way to go and it enhances the visceral feel to the gory deaths which there are aplenty. By the way, just because this film is low budget doesn't mean they weren't taking chances; this film has a lot of ballsy moments like killing kids, a more realistic approach to a beheading, and a pregnant woman being stabbed to death with the baby ripped out. The acting can be all over the place with a wide range of performances from great to laughable, but this doesn't change the fact that most characters are likable and you want to see them survive; even a lot of the cultists felt real and you could see how their brainwashing led them astray. Lastly, the film plays around with the order of events in an unorthodox way. Scenes will play out normally, but every so often time will rewind a bit as we see other characters' perspectives leading up to the scenes we had previously viewed; this was a welcomed addition that gives the audience a fuller scope of the events.

The ending is fantastic and the film closes things out at just the precise moment to leave you and your significant other or friends or whoever guessing as to what was real or not. The only problem is that the film has all the answers and they kind of negate this awesome conclusion if you take the time to decipher it all. As for my understanding of what is really going on, the film is a lot more straightforward than you'd think. The final shots leave things up to your imagination, but a closer examination of the beginning of the film reveals that the opening scenes actually take place after the final shot; the evidence lies in the radio report Karen hears as well as the scar on her shoulder. So, I guess the Apocalypse didn't happen after all...womp womp. But why all the visions of demons then? The evidence for that is all this discussion about eating muffins from the cult and a plant that is believed to be connected to the Salem witch trials which is slyly written on a paper in Karen's first dream (which would be after the film's events technically). We can then assume the muffins had an almost LSD-esque effect on the individuals making them see, well, pretty much whatever they want to believe. But don't let these tiny details hinder the introspection and philosophical debate that this film proposes. It's interesting to see how humans would react given the same circumstance, and it allows the viewer to think how they may behave as well in an end of the world scenario. Plus, it would have been one hell of a badass twist if the cultists really were right and demons were about to take over the world!

With seemingly unlimited amounts of direct to DVD garbage, it's becoming increasingly rare you discover a gem amongst the shit. I have to say, this movie came as a delightful treat when I was sitting around with popcorn and no new movies to watch. This is how you do low budget horror correctly! I love the attention to detail like the TVs showing an ocean of blood, the cult leader showing chaos around the world, and those pesky demons lurking in the shadows. The atmosphere successfully sucks you into an already compelling story as you follow likable characters struggling to survive; this would have made for one hell of a video game. Sure the acting is shaky at times, effects and film could be improved, and they sort of cancel out their own ending, but there are so many things done right and creatively that I can't believe this film has continued to remain this obscure. This film is fairly easy to track down, and is really cheap as well, so definitely check this one out.

Notable Moment: The opening jump scare. I'll admit it--I jumped. I did not think we'd be seeing anything interesting at two minutes in so I have to give credit where credit is due. Damn opening credits lulling me into a false sense of security!

Final Rating: 7/10