Review: Rise of the Zombies (2012)

Zombie flicks are cheap to make, and this movie proves it

This latest installment in the everlasting zombie movie production craze is a straight-to-video flick that proves that zombie movies require absolutely no acting talent and are fairly cheap to make.  Starring a cast of people that you may have heard of from other things, Rise of the Zombies begins with crowds of conveniently placed undead, a badly done CGI car crash and a group of survivors on the island of Alcatraz.  From there, it’s mostly zombies getting shot and smashed, people getting eaten and… well, there ain’t much more to it than that.

The basic story evolves in three arcs.  The first two involve a group of people that leave Alcatraz that then splits into two groups, one looking for an evacuation point and the other looking for a potential cure.  The last arc is a doctor that gets left behind on the now zombie-infested island to continue his research.  The two groups slowly lose members and eventually reform once enough people have died.  The remaining people continue the search for a cure, finding a doctor (not the same as the first one) who appears to have the problem solved.  The (original) doctor arc involves a father and his infected daughter.  It really goes nowhere though there is a painful scene of the doctor cutting off a piece of his own arm to feed the daughter.

If you’ve seen any zombie film, you’ve seen this one except probably better.  The zombies look as good as zombies usually do, which is a plus.  The actors are painful to watch, which is bad.  Notable non-standard elements include - the zombie virus being an organism that infects the body and takes it over, a horribly gut-turning baby-stomp scene and a performance by actor French Stewart that is at least fairly entertaining.  Completely ridiculous stuff includes - man gets arm chopped off and immediately flies a chopper, zombies scaling the sides of a bridge like they are Spider-Man and a disco-dance-like zombie electrocution scene done in slow motion.  Oh, and there’s the completely random slow-motion shots that pop up throughout the film for no particular reason.

If you really, really love zombies and don’t mind sitting through a B-film that will never become a classic, give Rise of the Zombies a watch.  If you’re anyone else, do yourself a favor and avoid this one.  It may not be the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it sure as hell ain’t the best.

Review: Hell (2011)

A German apocalyptic disaster film that is nice to look at, but devoid of much story.

Welcome to a future where the planet Earth has fallen victim to a rash of unusually powerful solar flares.  Such is the setting of the movie Hell.  The world is hot and people must try to avoid the sun as much as possible or risk getting one hell of a sunburn.  They spend most of their time looking for water and food and trying to survive among their fellow men.

The story follows a group of three survivors as they seek shelter on higher ground in hopes that there may be water.  After enlisting the aid of a fourth, the group gets waylaid by some bad guys on the road.  One of the girls gets captured and the rest must help her out.  After one failed attempt to free her, the group ends up losing another of their number to the baddies and another ends up with a busted ankle.  It’s up to the remaining woman to figure a way to set things right.

She sets out to find the bad guy camp and instead finds a village.  As it turns out, the village is a community of cannibals and they plan on eating the male captive and using the female as breeding material.  After getting captured, the main lady sets out to rescue the others.  Numerous conflicts ensue, people are killed and eaten and the movie ends pretty much as it began - a group trying to get to higher ground to find water.

The only real horror aspect of this film is the time spent in the cannibal village.  People are slaughtered and cooked up, but it’s all very low-key.  And while the stylistic shooting of the film was interesting to look at and the actors did good jobs in the roles they had, the overall film was bland.  There was almost no character development, but I expected that.  What annoyed me was the fact that the entire hour-and-thirty-minutes played out like an episode of a longer series.  I started out intrigued and slowly drifted away as the movie met its conclusion.

Check it out for the cinematography, but don’t expect much more than that.  It’s basically an okay film that someone could easily remake as a pretty decent one.

Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

A 50s B-movie that turned into a cult classic

 

The House on Haunted Hill may not be one of the best horror films you’ll ever see, but as far as being a classic of the B-horror genre, it well earns its place.  It even managed to generate a remake in 1999, albeit the story in the modern telling is far different than the original.  If you’re a collector of old horror flicks (particularly those of the infamous William Castle), this is one that can’t be missed and since it only comes in at 75 minutes, it’s an easy watch.

The general storyline follows a crazy millionaire and his trophy wife as they host a spooky party at a house renowned for being haunted.  The party is the wife’s idea, though the husband (played by the almighty Vincent Price) seems to be far more interested in making the affair something to remember.  Five guests are carefully chosen, including one man that lost family in the house before - two of the house’s “victims.”

The point of the party is that the five guests are required to stay in the house through the night, the windows barred and the doors locked from the outside.  Each person that can make it gets an equal share of $50,000 - no small amount in 1959.  Even though one of the party guests wishes to leave, the doors close a little too early and so all five, including the millionaire and his wife, are stuck for the duration.

Even before the doors lock, strange happenings begin to take place.  Heads appear in boxes, lights burn out, creepy old ladies go floating across the floor inexplicably and the party-goers are introduced to a random pit of acid located in the basement.  All-in-all, a pretty great selection of campy horror gags.

I won’t ruin the end for you, just in case you haven’t seen it, but the strange occurrences turn out to be explainable (at least as far as the story is concerned).  I will say these words, however - dancing skeleton on wires.  It’s worth watching the entire film just for the last, cheesy “special effect”.

It’s easy to point out the many bad things about this movie, such as the teleportation of characters from one place to another at the writer’s convenience, the fact that noises, no matter how loud, are only heard by a character when they need to be, and that everyone seems to split up at every opportunity.  The good things are pretty much the same as the bad.  This movie is simple and goofy and fun to watch despite the ridiculousness of it.

Review: Martin (1977)

George Romero takes a stab at the vampire genre, with mixed results

I’m a huge Romero fan, at least when it comes to his zombie flicks.  I never knew, however, that this legend of horror had taken a shot at making a vampire movie.  This flick, named Martin, was made in 1977 and looks every inch the 70s horror film, from the fuzzy photography to the bad haircuts to the “just say your lines however” style of acting that was popular back in the day.  The end result may not be what I would consider a classic of horror, but it was definitely ahead of its time.

The basic story follows the titular vampiric character, Martin.  We start out with Martin on a train, and he’s hungry.  Upon finding a suitable victim, he attacks to feed.  This isn’t your typical cliché vampire story, however.  Martin has no fangs, nor does he have super powers or the usual weaknesses that are attributed to the vampires of legend.  Romero makes an effort to humanize the character as much as possible, so Martin must rely on a needle filled with (slowly acting) knock-out drugs and his meager physical strength to subdue his victims.  His feeding style is a little odd, preferring to strip his victims and himself down and lie with them while he drinks their blood.  The entire thing has more than a few uncomfortably rapey undertones.

When Martin arrives at his destination, we find out he’s staying with his granduncle.  His granduncle, however, happens to indulge the idea of cleansing Martin of the vampiric curse and then sending him to hell.  So Martin must live in this unfriendly house, all the while balancing his vampire nature against the needs of being human. 

Over the course of the story, we see Martin hunt some more.  One particular hunting scene reminded me so much of the way they portray things on TV’s Dexter that I have to wonder if the producers of that show were Romero fans.  These scenes are where Romero really shines.  The hunts are tense, realistic and not colored in any way to seem either lighter than they should or more brutal.  Romero’s sense of realism in the fantastic is his strong point and here it comes through well.  This all goes out the window during one of the final scenes when a crazy shoot-out occurs that leaves everyone but Martin dead.  But that’s another one of Romero’s trademarks, that over-the-top action that flies in the face of realism while gifting his audience with plenty of blood and guts.

The entirety of the film follows the main character as he attempts to fit in and do human things, all the while trying to convince people around him that his “condition” isn’t really a big deal.  Martin finds a girlfriend, becomes a popular guest on a dial-in talk radio show and deals with his troubled family.  Martin’s story is a human story, despite the killing necessary to keep himself alive.

My biggest issue with the film was the pacing.  The movie comes in at just over an hour-and-a-half and the original, uncut version was supposed to be around two hours and forty-five minutes long.  The slow pacing during the first half and the jumpy second half are apparent contrasts.   I don’t know if I would have sat through another hour of this film, but the extra time may have fixed some of the problems I noticed.

Another issue I had was the lack of wisdom in Martin’s character.  When the story picks up, he’s been alive for 84 years.  Even though he looks young, 84 years of life will give you more than enough learning to get around lots of life’s little problems.  Some of this translates well, such as his skill in hunting, while at other times it seems like Martin hasn’t talked to a single person in all his time.  Whether that is a clarification that was left out due to the massive cuts or otherwise, I could not say.

And as the story of Martin comes to a close, the movie ends in that 70s-popularized fashion of quick brutality.  I never really enjoyed the 30-second resolutions that they loved back then, so I’ll just step back from being critical on that one.

All-in-all, fans of Romero will be pleased with Martin.  It contains all the things that make a Romero film memorable, albeit without the zombie hordes.  It was a thoughtful vampire flick back before people classified vampires as being worthy of humanistic traits and I’d put money on the fact that it influenced many filmmakers that made vampire films after it.  Give Martin a watch, but make sure you stick through the first half’s slow pacing and to the meat-and-bones of the picture.

Review: The ‘Hellraiser’ Series

From original horror to complete rubbish, which movies are worth watching and why

Today I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you what is simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst horror franchises in Hollywood history.  It is Hellraiser, a story originally conceived and written by horror wordsmith Clive Barker as his novel The Hellbound Heart.  These films became wildly popular at first, not just because of Barker’s story, but because of the amazing imagery that the bad guys presented.  These sadistic creatures from hell were both horrifically beautiful and deeply disturbing to behold.  And the level of pain and suffering in the Hellraiser movies puts today’s shock-horror films to shame.  Nine films in total were made in the franchise and I’ll be giving a brief rundown of the first six.  As you read on, you’ll understand why the last three are left out.

Hellraiser (1987) - This is the first in franchise, bases almost entirely off of The Hellbound Heart.  It also happens to be the only Hellraiser film directed and written by Clive Barker.  This flick is filled with blood, guts and shocking imagery and introduces us to some of the coolest monsters in the history of cinema, the Cenobites.  The story is a simple one: man finds evil puzzle box, man solves box, man gets pulled into hell, man tries to escape from hell.  All this is seen mainly through the eyes of a girl unwittingly caught in this, Kirsty, the niece of the man in question.  This is arguably the best in the series being that it holds true to Barker’s original vision.  The next movie, however, is the other that people like to consider the best.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) - This one brings back our heroine Kirsty, leading her to a mental institution where an evil doctor is trying to get one of his patients to solve the puzzle box and open the door to hell for him.  After the gate finally opens, the cast take a journey into hell, flee from and negotiate with cenobites and face some of their worst fears.  This one, although not Barker’s vision, was executed well and doesn’t step too far over the line as to make it a different thing entirely.  The notion of the franchise hasn’t devoured the film and so it still comes across as original and disturbing.  It also presents a stronger story, or at least one that is more immediately understandable than the first.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) - This is where the franchise begins to stink bad.  This movie is little more than an excuse to show off some new cenobite designs and demonstrate the nifty ways in which they can kill people.  You could honestly skip this chapter entirely and never notice a thing.  If you like super-predictable B-movies, however, it might be your thing.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) - As was a popular trend during the 90s, this time the cenobites go… into space!  Well, for some of the film anyways.  The rest, and best, of the movie takes place in the past, detailing the origins of the Lament Configuration (the puzzle box) and its creator.  Most of the flick is crap, but it at least conveys some of the back story behind the box.

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) - It is at this point that the studio stopped releasing any more of the films in theaters.  It was all straight-to-video.  Inferno is not the typical Hellraiser premise but seems more like something that would come out of the short-lived Hellraiser comic book series.  It is a noir-esque film with less horror and more mystery and, although many rave that it was horrible, I have a soft spot in my heart for it.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) - This flick tries to imitate the “what the hell is going on?” feel of Inferno but falls short.  It ends up coming across as boring in plot and doesn’t even contain enough horror to make it visually appealing.  Hellseeker is almost completely uninteresting and may actually put you to sleep.

After the disaster of Hellseeker, I gave up on the Hellraiser franchise despite my love of it.  There were two more released that I refused to see:

Hellraiser: Deader (2005) - Descendant of the maker of the box tries to join cenobites

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) - Hellraiser plus MMO, kill-by-numbers rubbish.

And another that I discovered while fact-checking on this post:

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) - Cenobites vs. teenagers cliché.

Apparently, the reviews on this last one were almost universally bad.  That leads me to believe that anyone interested in checking out Hellraiser should probably watch just the first two and then decide from there whether they want to sit through the rest.  If you like the visuals of the cenobites and don’t mind slowly deteriorating stories, you might even be able to make it through all nine!

Review: Stake Land (2010)

A hidden gem of horror for lovers of the apocalyptic genre

 

When I browse through my Netflix each and every night, the first thing that draws me in to any particular flick is the poster art.  Often, the way the picture is represented says much about the way the movie will pan out, at least visually.  The second thing that I look at is, of course, the description of the film.  It may be short and sometimes inaccurate, but it’s all we get to go on when it comes to a movie that we may never have heard of.  The description for Stake Land, according to Netflix, was that it was a movie about a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies and vampires.  Needless to say, it didn’t sound too impressive.  But I decided to give it a try anyways and, in the end, I was not in the least disappointed that I did.

Stake Land is one of those horror films that takes itself seriously.  The movie drops the viewer straight into a huge mess with no explanation.  The world has become overrun with vampires (I’m not sure where the zombies in the description were supposed to be…), although we never find out what happened or why.  All we know is that there is a man called “Mister” and a teenaged boy he’s sort of adopted and they travel from one stronghold of humanity to the next, killing vampires and trying to survive along the way.  In the course of their journey they meet up with more than one other survivor and, naturally, lose more than one friend along the way.

Stake Land makes no attempt to be some deeply engrossing story with lots of explanation or plot set-up.  It’s a man and his protégé trying to survive, little more.  The strength of the movie is that it is dark and brooding and the post-apocalyptic world they’re journeying through is harsh and unforgiving.  Not since Night of the Living Dead has a movie environment felt so bleak and yet so realistic despite its fantastical premise.  With most films of the genre I find myself watching and thinking “How do these people survive?  I could totally do much better than them.”  With Stake Land, I would never, ever want to be trapped in that world.  Even the weakest of the vampires are mean and dangerous and the pair of hunters, despite their skills, have a hard time keeping alive.  Stake Land’s America is a bad place where nearly everyone ends up dead in some horrible way.

The general story line is simple enough, following Mister and the kid as they make their way toward a place called “New Eden.”  Supposedly in New Eden there are no vampires to worry about.  But the final destination of their journey is just a place.  The real story is the journey itself.  The best way I can think to describe it is The Road with horrible mindless vampires thrown in.

If you’re a fan of well-made and well-thought-out horror, give Stake Land a watch.  Best be warned, though - it’s not a happy film.  This is not the typical film that kills off the cast one at a time leaving you shrugging because you happened to like one character or another.  Those that live and die are realistic and when they end, it’s messed up and sometimes quite disturbing.  In my opinion, Stake Land is the best vampire flick I’ve seen in over a decade and one of the best post-apocalyptic films I’ve seen in my life.

Review: Exit Humanity (2011)

Zombies meet the mid-1800s with a fair degree of success.

Zombies are all the rage these days and you pretty much can’t turn a corner without running into something that’s been inspired by them.  More so when you go browsing through the Internet.  And this new obsession with zombies means that Hollywood is trying to capitalize on their fame by making movie after movie starring the shambling hordes of the undead. 

Most of these fall flat, being little more than cut-rate “innovations” on Romero’s ideas.  Sometimes, however, a movie actually captures the essence of what a zombie movie is supposed to be about.  Exit Humanity, which I happened to stumble across on Netflix, is one of the latter.  It’s no Academy Award-winner, but it’s a pure zombie flick, through and through.

The premise follows a man by the name of Edward Young (Mark Gibson) during the year of 1865.  The American Civil War is over, but all is not right with the world.  Zombies have risen from their graves and are slowly but surely sweeping across the United States.  Basically, it’s your typical generic zombie story except set in the mid-1800s.  Which is, in my opinion, its greatest appeal.

As the movie begins, Edward has just put down his zombie wife and is getting ready to head out and look for lost son in hopes that he might still be alive.  Armed with his trusty 1800s guns, he fights his way through the zombies, slowly discovering more about them along the way. 

As the title suggests, he begins to lose his humanity due to being forced to kill so many of the creatures, some of whom are old acquaintances.  On his journey, he runs into survivors, some good and some not-so-good.  He even runs into someone who explains exactly why everything has hit the fan.

And that, without going into plot-spoiling details, is the film.  But it’s that simplicity that makes the film enjoyable.  This is a remake of every standard zombie flick that’s out there, utilizing almost all the same elements of plot.  But… it’s in the 1800s! 

Really, that’s what made the film for me, the chance to see a Night of the Living Dead-type film but in an historical era.  It holds to all the classic form and doesn’t try to get too innovative aside from some strange animation that is inserted here and there, which is only a stylistic change.

Lovers of zombie flicks should give Exit Humanity a chance.  If you want something new and interesting, this may not be the one for you, but if you just want to watch some guys killing undead and each other with Civil War-era weaponry, you’re in the right place.

Nosferatu

The Original Vampire

One of the most striking differences between vampire folklore and vampire fiction is that folklore vampires are creepy, not sexy. While there is an implication of sexuality in some versions of the vampire legend, it's a bestial and predatory sort of sexuality- not romantic in the slightest. Folklore vampires are dead people, walking corpses, with implications of the Black Plague (they can turn into rats) and animalistic, mindless predatory instincts. They are not rock stars or teen heart-throbs.

That's what makes “Nosferatu” such a classic. This silent movie was a straight rip-off of the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, as thinly-veiled as it could possibly have been. The acting, as was typical of the silent era, was over the top to the point of seeming ridiculous to a modern viewer. But the vampire was truly creepy, truly spooky, with his bald and distinctly rat-like face and his long, long fingers.

 

“Count Orlok,” as he was called, was scary in a way that Lugosi's Dracula could never hope to be. The movie as a whole wasn't really scary, but the vampire was. He made your skin crawl. As in the novel of “Dracula,” there were implications of sex, but it's the kind of sex that was most taboo to the novel's Victorian readers. When later writers took the dark and very misogynistic sexuality implicit in “Dracula” and transformed it into romantic eroticism, the vampire became a laughable pornographic trope instead of a figure of horror. “Nosferatu” shows us the way vampires used to be, before Hollywood defanged them.

 

 

Deep Blue Sea

Where The Sharks Are Smart, But The Script Is Not

How do you cure Alzheimer's? By making really giant sharks and stealing their brain juice. Why? Who knows! That's the basic premise of “Deep Blue Sea,” one of the most nonsensical creature features of modern times. Of course, there's a catch. You can't just go making giant mako sharks and stealing their brain juice, because as the sharks get bigger, their brains get bigger, and as their brains get bigger, the sharks get smarter. Smart enough to understand the entire blueprint of your soon-to-be-doomed scientific facility, how video cameras work, and other stuff you wouldn't think they could really understand just by getting smarter, but what the hey.

The end result of all this lunacy is that giant, technologically advanced super-sharks will stalk you through a maze of underwater corridors, not because they just want to eat you- they're too smart for that until the final scene- but solely in order to manipulate you into letting them out so they can complete their master plan and annihilate the human race. But have no fear- at the very last moment, right when it's especially important for the plot, the evil master shark will forgo its plan for world domination solely to stuff its gullet with human flesh one more time, even though it already ate Samuel L. Jackson.

 

Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, he should have been safe at the time, because he wasn't even in the water. He was busy giving an inspirational speech, right up until the moment that the evil shark queen jumped completely out of the water, surfed along the corridor for a few feet, chomped him completely in half, and then slipped back in the water.

 

To sum up, this is a gritty and realistic social drama, and I highly recommend it.

 

 

Ravenous

The Wendigo Legend

The wendigo legend is one of the creepiest legends out there, especially if you have a pathological horror of cannibalism like I do. “Ravenous” is only sort of about the wendigo, in that it doesn't feature any man-eating ogre-like monsters. Instead it concentrates on the other side of the wendigo story- the notion that a person can become possessed by an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The whole thing is set out West in the 1840s, which is a little bit off considering that the wendigo is more of a northeastern legend. But I can overlook that. The whole concept of a contagious cannibal bloodlust, spreading from one person to another like a virus, is just creepy as anything. There are better horror movies than this one out there, but there are not too many that can make my own skin crawl like this one does.

 

If you're ever stuck in a snowed-in Old West army fort high up in the Sierra Nevadas (or wherever this is supposed to be) don't just go eating anything anyone offers you. For the love of all that is good and decent, give it some thought first. Look closely at the meat. Is it really, truly chicken?

 

If you don't pay close attention, you could end up going cannibal. And if this movie is a reliable guide, the slightest taste of human flesh will fill you with a craving nothing else will ever satisfy, and you'll just be killing and cooking, killing and cooking. It grosses me out to even think about it.

 

 

 

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