Friday, December 30, 2016

Dark Tales of Japan Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An anthology of five tales told by a ghostly grandma aboard a late-night bus.

Review: Despite being made-for-TV, this wasn't half bad. Oh, sure, much of the special effects are horrendous and the budget limitations are palpable, but they managed to work with the material well enough to get the job done. My main gripe is that none of the stories are particularly interesting or memorable. It's not that they're bad--they simply lean toward the mediocre side of things. This isn't to say that you shouldn't give it a watch, however, you should keep in mind that average tales mixed with shoddy effects could come off as a disappointment; I mean, this ain't "Ju-on: The Curse" here. Finally, there is a separate issue only affecting the Western DVD.

Wraparound: If you were like me, you were probably wondering where the fuck is the wraparound discussed on the wiki page?! I don't know why it's not included, but you're losing out on about 10 minutes of material as well as the plot element that pieces everything together. True, the wraparound has no bearing on any individual tale, but it adds to the experience. Thankfully, someone did upload a, seemingly, complete version on youtube. So...all that happens is this ghostly old lady haunts a bus and its handful of passengers they pick up. She does address us, the viewing audience--which is a nice touch--and she creates a kind of interlude between segments. I actually thought there was a lot of potential here for a larger story, but things just kind of end abruptly once the driver runs away after having enough of the ghostly shenanigans. Overall, it's annoying this content was cut, but it's not exactly going to make or break the film as a whole.

The Spiderwoman: I want to say this entry was striving for satire; in a way, we see the depiction of how easily urban legends spread around Japan. For this urban legend we have the titular spiderwoman that people claim to see with all manner of conflicting accounts. Two journalists investigating the sightings come across the actual creature as she can take a human form. By the end, one of the journalists is magically turned into a...Spider-Man...? Eh, just no Kirsten Dunst, please, for the love of fuck! I guess this segment was okay if you don't take things too seriously. Unfortunately, the special effects are exceptionally terrible which really drags down the final impression. It sucks too because the filmmakers were finding creative ways to make it look like someone had a bunch of limbs earlier in the tale.

Crevices: This segment felt like an unofficial prequel to "Kairo" (or "Pulse" whichever you prefer). I mean, you've got a ghost being kept at bay by red tape so what else am I to make of that? Anyway, a guy comes looking to find out what happened to his missing friend. At the missing friend's apartment, there is nothing but red tape everywhere which baffles the guy and an accompanying landlord. While taking off the tape and looking for clues, the landlord suddenly disappears into thin air. Finding a video recording of the friend, the main guy realizes that some Sadako-clone is haunting the apartment and somehow can appear within any crevice. It makes little sense if you think too hard about it so just roll with it. Shocking no one, the guy tries to tape up every edge in the apartment only to miss one and die. I think this tale kind of embodies my issues with this film--it's not bad but you just shrug your shoulders and move on.

The Sacrifice: Okay, now this isn't the best entry, but it's got a little extra spice if you know what I mean. That's right, another sexy babe! And, WOW, this chick, Yu Yamada, was totally doing it for me--she looks like she could be Rika's fookin' sister! I can't stand the dyed hair, but exceptions can always be made! Wait, where was I? Oh yes, there is a story here. Apparently, when the main girl, played by Ms. Yamada, was little she saw her grandma die in order to save the ailing mother. This was some kind of sacrifice to a spirit or demon or monster or whatever the hell it was supposed to be! Now, as an adult, the main girl is somehow cursed by a dorky dude she rejected. With this curse growing stronger, the girl's mom decides she will sacrifice herself to this order to save our dear, sweet Ms. Yamada's life. Sure enough, this cancels out the curse and kills the dorky guy in the process as well. Then this leaves Ms. Yamada to now be the mother of my children so she can keep the sacrificial tradition going...or at least that's how it ended in my head. But seriously, this was just another so-so tale. It was kind of original, I suppose, but we don't really know why anything is happening.

Try and tell me she couldn't pass for Rika's evil, yet sexy, twin?

Blonde Kwaidan: I guess this entry was the best despite it being really short and ending in an idiotic way. Some businessman is visiting the USA and staying near Hollywood. His reactions are amusing and he loves all the blonde girls he sees. I especially loved when he discussed that Hollywood was going down for pointlessly doing nothing but remakes. You're fucking telling me, dude. Later on, after staying at another businessman's address, the guy is haunted by a blonde equivalent of Kayako. And now we know why you don't see long-haired, blonde ghosts running around...they look ridiculous; there is just something about the black hair that works. And I'm not joking about the whole Kayako thing--the blonde's body is found in a similar way to Kayako, and it's the same director, Takashi Shimizu, behind this tale. What ruins this entry is that it ends just when things are getting interesting. I can appreciate the jokes and humorous tone, but, due to general pointlessness and ending things prematurely, I can see people thinking this was the worst.

Presentiment: Lastly, we come to the longest tale of the bunch. Again, this could have been something special yet the potential is squandered needlessly. A guy plans to rob his company and then flee with some side chick.'s almost as if they don't want you to feel bad when he dies. So after pulling some next level "Mission Impossible" shit, the guy goes to leave the building when he becomes trapped on the elevator with three shifty characters. If you can't tell they're ghosts within one second you might need your horror credentials revoked. Ahh, but here's the spin--the ghosts have nothing better to do than to watch other people become ghosts. After somewhat, and rightfully, guilt-tripping the guy, he realizes they're ghosts when the rescuers say he's the only one on the elevator. Surviving the incident, the ghosts wonder what went wrong until some kind of "Final Destination" shit kicks in to finish him off. The ending is somewhat fitting since the ghosts wonder if the guy's lover will die next since she kept threatening to commit suicide if the guy doesn't leave his family for her. The grim reaper...I guess...informs them that she won't die for like 50 years and will have three kids. Hah. That's a good one.

All things considered, this film is slightly above average. More so, if you got screwed over with the Western release of the DVD, then I'd drop the rating down to a 5/10 since you're getting screwed out of the wraparound. There are plenty of positives without a doubt, however, the negatives are substantial. If there had been at least one impressive story that stood above the rest that could have alleviated the lackluster nature of the rest; instead, each tale is more or less of the same quality. Of course I got a new chickadee out of the experience, but others won't see much of a benefit from Ms. Yamada's inclusion. Nevertheless, I still think Asian horror fans might get a kick out of this. Casual moviegoers will probably want to avoid this one though.

Notable Moment: During the "Blonde Kwaidan" segment when the main guy is driving down Hollywood Boulevard. It's just a funny scenario, and he's such a cliched tourist, but the icing on the cake is taking a shot at shitty remakes of Asian movies.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sadako vs Kayako Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The two biggest J-horror legends clash because...reasons.

Review: So here is a little Christmas present that has been long, long overdue. First, let me point you to this posting I made nearly a year ago: Sadako vs Kayako prediction. I was actually pretty damn close! In fact, I still think my ending, with the addition of Mimiko from "One Missed Call," would have been significantly better than what we got. Anyway, what to make of this film...hmm. Well, if this were intended to be an honorary "Ringu 3" it's not too bad. However, if I judge the movie on what was promised, it's an absolute fucking mess. The truly irritating aspect is how disrespectful the filmmakers are to the "Grudge" franchise. They are ignoring pretty much all sequels to both franchises, but they're definitely more faithful to Sadako (another aspect I predicted). But it's not just giving Sadako the advantage--Kayako gets beat hard and doesn't even show up until the 75 minute mark! Let that sink Kayako for an hour and fifteen minutes! They need to change the title to Sadako vs random Japanese girls. I have no idea what they were thinking, but J-horror is in dire need of a second wind or something.

They don't even show her face. Disappointing.

Might as well start off with what was working in the film's favor. If you ignore all the Kayako parts, and just fixate on Sadako, this is a worthy entry for the "Ring" series. This notion that Sadako and the tape have become a known urban legend around Japan was logical and established a certain air of mystery that was impressive; even as the characters express, the fact that VHS as a medium is outdated kind of makes the urban legend creepier. The cinematography and lighting are spot on, and this presentation also extends toward the Kayako side of things as well. In this same vein, the tone is captured commendably--better than I would have thought really. It's almost as if a "Ringu" script was lying around incomplete, and they filled in the holes with Kayako. The last thing that was, kind of, cool was the fusion of Sadako and Kayako into one being (wikipedia calling it Sayako). I guess this is intended to be the sequel-bait portion?

It's not the same without Takako Fuji, but the makeup looks better than the other entries without her.

Now for the bad...and it's a considerable amount of bad! As I already addressed, Kayako doesn't show up until the movie is practically over. Sure, you see her hands for a second and hear some croaking but that's weak. Hell, Toshio probably does more in the movie than Kayako...AGAIN! On top of that, they didn't come close to capturing the design of the Saeki house. And yeaaaah, remember how Kayako was living near the woods with a well just chilling out in her backyard?! Talk about fucking contrivances! Speaking of retcons, why did they change what was shown on Sadako's tape? I already knew they would make Sadako more powerful (because she is), however, I'd hoped they would at least give equal action to both franchises. Instead, Kayako's inclusion is noticeably forced with shenanigans shoehorned in just because. This leads me to these idiotic spiritualists they introduce who can magically go head to head with Kayako and Sadako like it's no biggie. These spiritualists also casually know about Kayako and just come up with, on the spot, the idea that they will try to cancel out the curses by making the two ghostly ladies fight. This doesn't even make sense since whoever won would still kill the people they have cursed! You kind of have to see this shit for yourself, but, suffice it to say, the way the events unfold is horrific and also majorly contrived. Making matters worse is that the movie suddenly ends without any resolution. There is a post-credit scene so I guess the last two girls alive died...oh loss there. The last thing I'll add is how annoying the characters are. We have a dumbass who won't just ignore the Saeki house, a dumbass who goes suicidal out of nowhere, a dumbass, wannabe cool-guy, and a dumbass lead who is identical to every good girl in either series. The only character who had potential--though squandered nonetheless--was the blind, little psychic girl; her backstory might have actually made for a compelling means to link Sadako to Kayako. Whatever, dude.

I really don't know what I was expecting here, because the entire premise is preposterous. I guess I was hoping against hope that things would turn out good...somehow. In all fairness, the "Ringu" aspects are decent, and the groundwork for a respectable film was certainly there; can't say there wasn't potential. I wish the "Grudge" franchise made out better from a fan perspective yet I knew they would not handle things properly from the get-go. There are plenty of positives spread throughout like the look and tone which creates the illusion you are watching a proper sequel to either series. Unfortunately, they drop the ball hard at the end, leaving you unsatisfied and, ultimately, disappointed. Could there be a sequel to this one day? Sure. Could it actually be a good movie? Definitely but I wouldn't hold my breath. If you're a fan of either franchise I guess you should watch this for a sense of completion. If you are simply intrigued by the novelty of these two characters fighting then I think you will be unsatisfied. Overall, a mediocre time-waster that is more annoying if you were genuinely excited by the prospect of this film.

Notable Moment: When that one spiritualist dies while headbutting the professor. Whaaat? That was beyond moronic, but the bitch-slap to Yuri was amusing since it came out of nowhere.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Christmas Carol (2009) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: You know the drill...Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by three spirits on Christmas.

Review: Well, it's that time of year again for my annual rendition of the Dickens classic, "A Christmas Carol." This time around we have a version from...argh...Disney. And Jim Carrey as not only Scrooge but the spirits as well? What, ruining "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" wasn't enough? I guess my main gripe with this interpretation is that it can't decide if it wants to be a faithful adaptation or slather that grimy Disney coating of shit all over things. Any time things get serious, and they depict the story in proper form, some idiotic segment occurs that feels like it's pandering to potheads or something. I mean, really, Scrooge shrinking down to mouse-size and being chased by a demonic horse and carriage? Huuuh? Fucking Disney...

So, obviously, the things that work best are when they stick to the source material. In all fairness, the film mostly stays on course with the story and, seemingly, only deviates to pad out the running time. However, there are plenty of aspects dropped that could have been played up if they really needed to fill that 90 minutes. For example, Tiny Tim does not get much attention considering his impending death is one of the main things that affects Scrooge's change of heart. Likewise, the time dealing with Fred and Scrooge's sister are almost entirely dropped. As for Jim Carrey...he isn't that bad to be honest. The rest of the cast are all decent too despite having bit roles. I am not a fan of CGI family movies, but I suppose this was an okay medium for a tale such as this.

As for the film's failings...hmm...where to begin? Well to kick things off let's address the copious amounts of upskirt shots of Scrooge. There were so many it was easily rivaling even the most hardcore, Japanese schoolgirl porn (HIGHLY recommended!) Okay, but seriously, the film is boggled down with mindless decisions that reeked of an executive feeling like things weren't Disney enough. I was especially annoyed by this retarded incarnation of the Ghost of Christmas Past. What on earth was that abomination?! Or the dancing of Fezziwig and his wife...oh god...can't take it. And what was up with Scrooge falling all over the place? For an old man, he sure can take a beating. In fact, remember in the book how Scrooge is always falling all over the place and miraculously not dying? Oh that's right, that never happened and slapstick comedy hardly fits this type of narrative. Probably the most egregious offense is how unconvincing this Scrooge's transition to nice guy was; I just didn't buy it. We don't get the kind of development other versions try to portray; the film was certainly hurting for any kind of emotional resonance.

I don't know...I found myself incredibly bored watching this. I'm only giving this a good rating due to using "A Christmas Carol" as the premise. If I rated based on my feelings alone this would be like a 4.5/10. The thing is, you can have fun with "A Christmas Carol" just as the Muppet version showed us. But you have to commit to things wholeheartedly; you can't half-ass it the way this version did. It's no secret I loathe Disney as a company, but, regardless, this isn't a very good interpretation of the timeless classic one way or another. Just stick to the Patrick Stewart version or the Muppets or the black and white versions...they're all better and more pleasing to the eyes.

Notable Moment: Any scene with that moronic interpretation of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Did no one in pre-production look at that monstrosity and chime in about the laughable design?

Final Rating: 6/10

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wind Chill Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Two college kids, heading home for Christmas break, become stranded along a haunted road.

Review: This isn't a full-blown Christmas movie per se, but it'll do the trick for this time of year. And, similarly to "Krampus," you will want to huddle under the blankets while watching. Now, I do like this movie, however, the criticisms laid against "Wind Chill" are more than fair. More specifically, the pacing is slow, the action is light, and, realistically, they had enough material for a half hour TV show. What does redeem the film is the brilliantly, snowy scenery combined with an engaging mystery as to what is happening. Does the story deliver on that mystery? Eh...debatable but not really. At the same time, there is a, somewhat, charming romance subplot between the two leads; though it annoys me to no end that neither character was named! Why do movies keep doing that?

The general premise is intriguing as we follow the girl--we will call her Emily--as she attempts to find a ride home for Christmas break. The film covers why she would willingly travel with a stranger, and college kids notoriously do stupid things to be cheap. Anyway, the guy giving the ride--we'll call him Ashton--is presented as an obvious red herring. In fact, I'm not entirely sure where they were going with this character at the beginning since it was as clear as day to any viewer he isn't going to be evil or anything. Sure, he's a bit of a stalker, but he explains his tactics in film and it makes sense from a dweebie, college kid's perspective. Surprise, Emily is the girl of his dreams (or whatever), and he just wanted some alone time with her so he arranged to be her ride. Since the emphasis of the story is about ghosts, much of this comes off as filler to stretch out the ideas surrounding this haunted road. This leads me to the actual main antagonist, a ghostly cop who tends to kill passengers every holiday season on this particular stretch of road he patrolled when alive. So the gist of the plot revolves around the two college kids trying not to freeze to death once they've crashed on this road. Likewise, the ghostly cop attempts to add them to his list of victims yet can't seal the deal for whatever reason. There is plenty of tension throughout, and, as I mentioned, that frigid imagery is powerful stuff. I kind of liked the romance building between the two as they struggled not to freeze, and I appreciate the general mood and atmosphere presented. Unfortunately, the pacing begins to drag with little happening for massive periods. Many scenes that could have been intense falter instead. By the end, the resolution to these events felt lackluster as Ashton simply dies, his ghost saves Emily, and that's only after a bit of last minute shenanigans. The Christmas element does add a little spice, however, it's greatly underutilized when it could have played a larger role.

Overall, "Wind Chill" is more of a mixed bag with quality production value. You have a bunch of great ideas and an original premise to set you off, but the follow through just isn't there. Events start off creepily enough yet that initial intrigue dissipates all too quickly as if a second writer finished the script or something. Either they should have condensed the story down to be a short (or anthology segment) or plot elements like the romance or cop's backstory should have been greatly expanded upon to fill out the slow parts. Instead, we get a lot of scenes where the characters suddenly gain second, third, fourth, infinite winds of energy to do things when they're seemingly dying only seconds prior. I do still recommend checking this out since the story is incredibly offbeat, but it doesn't completely embrace the holiday horror aspect you might want at this time of year.

Notable Moment: When eel-man pops up. Who, or what, the fuck was that supposed to be?

Final Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Krampus (2015) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After their Christmas begins to fall apart, a family is tormented by Krampus and his demonic minions.

Review: Coming from the writer/director of the amazing "Trick 'r Treat," I had hoped "Krampus" could be for Christmas horror what "Trick 'r Treat" was for Halloween horror. Alas, "Krampus" is not in the same league, but it is still a decent film in its own right. For me, it's the comedic direction that hurt the experience as the stakes feel low and the scenarios are too outlandish. "Trick 'r Treat" has a significantly better balance of tone. However, the real make it or break it moment is in regard to the ending--this ending was a big pile of meh.

I've covered the myth of Krampus before, but, for those unfamiliar, he's essentially a version of Santa that deals with the naughty children. In this instance, they claim that Krampus comes to those who lose hope on Christmas. This kinda makes sense, but it bugged me from the onset since these characters aren't particularly deserving of the fate that awaits them. Sure, some of them are assholes, but you'd think Krampus would have a bone to pick with actual evil people. Likewise, Krampus is depicted as being evil himself which is more hypocritical rather than him being a kind of moral authority against the naughty on Christmas. Eh...this is just nitpicking at this point. Anyway, what really worked for this film was the cinematography. The snowy scenery was well done and things felt like, as a character says, a twisted fairy tale; things looked so cold I wanted a blanket to wrap myself in! This general approach was the right move in instilling a magical, yet terrifying, situation for the characters to deal with. I do feel this setup was squandered slightly, however, the look and style is on point nonetheless. Another strong point is with a couple of the creature concepts; Krampus looks intimidating and a few of his killer toys are imaginative. I really wanted these ideas to be explored in a serious manner though.

As for the shortcomings, much of the problems lie with this comedic tone. The use of CGI, killer gingerbread men was a moronic idea both outright and in implementation. Considering all the other evil toys had a somewhat scary design, it was confusing as to why gingerbread men would receive as much screen time as they did. Another major problem is with the pacing. It's not that the film drags, but too much of the story involves characters just sitting around or staring out the window. Good film making needs to keep things rolling and only show scenes that contribute to the overall premise; these tedious scenes felt like filler or were an amateurish mistake. Finally, that ending really sucked. What was the point of anything really? Some kid tears up a letter to Santa and everyone goes to hell over it?! Likewise, if it was just this family learning their lesson, what became of all the other victims we see? Are they imaginary? I rarely say this, but that felt like a huge plot hole. I don't know...I was leaning more toward a 6.5/10 until the yeah.

All things considered, this is an above average film bolstered by the look and snowy landscape. The story does make you wonder where this is all heading, but the payoff isn't quite where it should be at. The actors are hamming things up too, but it doesn't bother me given the outlandish scenarios depicted. Come to think of it, maybe a more Christmas-y vibe would have enhanced playing Christmas songs that complemented a situation in an ironic way. Oh well. I do have my gripes yet I can still offer a recommendation to casual audiences. As far as veterans of horror go, I think this will be on the disappointing side since it includes nothing we haven't seen before. Still, it's probably worth a view just for the sake of promoting Christmas horror of this higher production quality.

Notable Moment: When the one sister is eaten by the jack-in-the-box creature. This was a cool idea for a monster, but it should have been a lot scarier in context. I mean, the other characters more or less shrug this horrific sight off.

Final Rating: 6/10