Monthly Archives: June 2012

Crash Analysis: THE LAST HORROR MOVIE (UK, 2003)

Didn’t take it far enough

A serial killer hijacks a horror movie to bring us the real deal…

AMERICAN PSYCHO + MAN BITES DOG = THE LAST HORROR MOVIE

That’s certainly not a bad thing by any means. The only problem for screenwriter James Handel and director Julian Richards is that they didn’t take the story far enough. And the proof may be in the many message boards about the movie, because you’ll often see this one-word phrase by naysayers: pointless.

Regardless, Max (Kevin Howarth) tapes his kills and brings them to us with his commentary. If anything, he wants to know why we watch, why we continue to look on as he maims and murders men and women for his own fix. And with Max’s musings and questions, LAST becomes quite quotable. But if many deem the movie “pointless”, what were Richards and Handel striving to bring the audience?

On one level, Max is simply calling out for answers. After all, he has a nephew he adores, and maintains both family and friend based relationships. Yet he kills others without remorse or concern. An opportunistic killer, Max delivers his musings about the horror of being predatory, before, during and after his murders. However, the philosophizing only goes so far. There are no answers for Max and for the audience, and we are only left to wonder and pontificate on why we subjected ourselves to ninety minutes of torture porn.

And this is certainly where the filmmakers missed their grand opportunity. Max’s murders are never really drawn out and he dispatches his victims rather quickly. If a page had been taken from Tarantino’s phenomenal use of suspense (at that time, RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), PULP FICTION (1994) and even his FOUR ROOMS (1995) segment), the audience would have had a hard time sitting idle. Instead, we’re never left with enough gut wrenching experiences to make us feel dirty. Then again, this does coincide with Max’s psyche. Since he doesn’t care, and kills at a fast pace, the audience, like Max, is left without any sense of attachment to the sufferers. We never get to know the victims, therefore, we can only be invested so much in their slaying. Intellectually, we know the murder of innocents is wrong, but emotionally, we are not attached to care on a deeper level. Once we realize this, maybe the movie will hold more weight. After all, shouldn’t we care more whether we know the victim or not? It’s as if we’re watching a news program and learn that a kid was killed in a drive-by. But since we’ve heard this countless times, and since we don’t know the victim, well, it’s sad, but…

Richards and Handel missed a grand opportunity because they could have gotten us emotionally involved if Max suddenly decided to take out his nephew or sister. And knowing this could have happened at any point in the story does give one pause, but since this scene never materialized, the audience is deprived of digging as deep as they should.

Yet, just because the story falls short, the zeal, vigor and intensity of actor Kevin Howarth as Max, is enough to keep us invested. Howarth owns the screen and delivers at every turn with rough and biting commentary, from a rugged, good looking man that could easily be Patrick Bateman’s brother.

Overall, the acting is quite solid and the movie is shot well. However, if we’re to gain something from this – something to rattle our brains and make us think about why we love horror, it just doesn’t work. And instead of being a horror that is truly disturbing and thought provoking, we’re left with something a bit better than average.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: BORDELLO OF BLOOD (1996)

Popcorn with extra blood, please  

VAMP revisited…

So, Katherine Verdoux (Erika Eleniak) is coerced by down on his luck PI, Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to find her missing brother, Caleb (Corey Feldman). Once Guttman figures out what’s going on – and it doesn’t take much detective work – he’s out to rid an old mortuary of its vampy harem.

Yes, it’s another vampire comedy, complete with bloodsuckers that explode when doused with holy water from Super Soakers, which seemed very THE LOST BOYS (1987). And the story’s foundation seemed to be based upon 1986’s VAMP staring Grace Jones. Of course, the two aforementioned movies are both superior to this initiative that sunk the “Tales from the Crypt” franchise. Granted, we get Dennis Miller and his smarminess to the nth degree, and everyone plays along with the comedic gag, including the lovely Angie Everhart as Lilith, but the barbs in VAMP and LOST were better and funnier.

Director Gilbert Adler, who has a very diverse portfolio as a producer (war, horror, drama, comedy, etc.), stayed true to the old “Tales from the Crypt” cable horror salute to the great comic book genius, William Gaines, of EC fame (in the movie, they named the cemetery after him). Yet, even with great character actors as William Sadler, Aubrey Morris and Phil Fondacaro, the story just serves as a fun romp with little bite. There is absolutely no suspense or surprises, and even if some of the exploding vampires are “cool”, it seems as if the fangs were filed down for this one.

Tom Priestly, Jr., director of photography did an excellent job with some wonderful camera angles to please the eye. Then again, with all his experience, from THE FRENCH CONNECTION to A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, and dozens more, it’s no wonder his work alone kept the story moving. Make-up effects were hit and miss, as well as visual effects, though with the comedic element, even the poorly executed material worked with the tongue-in-cheek feel of the movie. However, when the effects really triumph, it is thanks to Priestly’s camera work as well as Stephen Lovejoy’s sharp editing.

The one actor who seemed to have the most fun, however, was Chris Sarandon (of FRIGHT NIGHT and CHILD’S PLAY fame). As Reverend Current, he certainly dove into the role to have one hell of a good time. And his gung-ho evangelist over-acting brought more laughs than Miller’s witticisms.

All in all, the movie is fun, yet disposable. It doesn’t have that special edge to make me want to put it up on the shelf. Maybe if the final scene wasn’t so telegraphed, it could have finished on a stronger note worthy of remembering.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: AUTOPSY (Italy, 1975)

Definitely had its moments – but not enough

A young pathology student is out to find a killer 

When one too many suicides come into the morgue, Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) takes note and wants to learn the truth – especially since an apartment neighbor who had plans to leave Italy for Pennsylvania, shot herself. Simona’s suspicions are confirmed when Father Paul Lenox (Barry Primus) states that her neighbor never would have done such a thing. And even though the priest is a bit off the rails, the pair works to uncover the truth.

Once again, editing and sound are awful, which seems to be an Italian movie industry pastime. However, writer/director Armando Crispino’s story is certainly intriguing (he co-wrote the script with established scribe, Lucio Battistrada). Thanks to a wonderful sense of story, at one point the audience isn’t certain if Sana is losing her mind, if the priest is already a lunatic, if something demonic is afoot or if the rash of suicides is simply a coincidence. The story then, however, takes a pedestrian turn and the third act is simply weak instead of spellbinding, as if Crispino and Battistrada were uncertain how to wrap things up.

Crispino, however, gave this movie far more of a chance than Argento would have. Instead of cranking out the tale for mass consumption, it was clear from the development of Sana he wanted the story to be a bit of a character study. But possibly due to the times and his own culture, Crispino kept his heroine on the sidelines when her involvement was needed most.

Even with its shortcomings, the movie definitely maintains one’s interest, and it’s certainly worth a look from those who may only be familiar with more renowned Italian horrors. Thankfully, the great Blue Underground – the horror equivalent of The Criterion Collection – saved this one from the forgotten bin.

2 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: DEAD MEAT (Ireland, 2004)

Zombies with Extra Cheese

A woman finds herself alone in Ireland when the Zombipocalypse comes calling…

I’ve indulged in nearly a half-dozen Irish horrors and all had merit – except this one.

When Helena (Marian Arajuo) enters the Irish countryside with her husband (David Ryan), they find themselves lost in the great field of green soon after zombie cows attacked farmers, which helped create zombies in human form. Of course they’re out for fresh flesh and… well, you know the menu.

Granted, writer/director Conor McMahon has enjoyed his fair share of bringing horror to large and small screens, but he delivers a hackneyed movie with enough cheesiness to make one lactose intolerant.

No new ground is broken here, and the story doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t traveled before. Instead, we’re left with a mediocre tale where one cares little for the protagonist and a handful of locals trying to get “anywhere but here”.

The standout is Andrew Legge’s better than decent cinematography, though the lighting made many of the latter scenes difficult to discern. However, for every solid special effect the Art Department conjured, there were at least two that were sub-par.

If anything, McMahon seemed to try to string together a story based upon the special effects, and that does not a movie make. Regardless of how “wild” it might be to see a zombie get torn asunder, if the story has no punch or resounding value, and if the audience cares little for the characters, those kill scenes carry minor weight at best.

The sad part is that this movie could have been something strong and worthwhile, but when a story is based upon new and intriguing ways to kill and maim, instead of new ways to deliver theme, there really is little point. Thankfully, however, I did not have to sit through a viewing in a theatre, and I once again found the fast forward button quite a savior.

And one can only guess that other Irish horror writers and directors had seen the mediocre DEAD MEAT and thought they could do better – and they did. Therefore, check out the following if you prefer 3.5 star or better movies: ISOLATION (2005), THE ECLIPSE (2009), OUTCAST (2010) and WAKE WOOD (2011). Since DEAD MEAT, Irish horrors have excelled and let’s hope the trend continues.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: GHOST SON (Italy/South Africa/Spain/UK, 2007)

Is that a baby or Chucky?

A man dies and his spirit takes residence in his unborn son…

Laura Harring (Stacey) was beautiful in David Lynch’s fantastic MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) – hell, it earned him a Best Director Oscar nod and put the rock solid and stunning Naomi Watts on the map. And in this 2007 foray, Harring is still beautiful yet gives us a bit more as the protagonist coping with the death of her husband as she struggles to raise their son in South African back country.

But Harring is not alone. Young Thandi (Mosa Kaiser) takes care of her and the town doctor (Pete Postlethwaite) always happens to be Johnny on the spot when crisis looms. Of course, no one (except Thandi and some locals) believes Stacey is seeing her dead husband and that his essence has turned their son into a conduit for murderous violence. And this is where Lamberto Bava’s and Silvia Ranfagni’s story falls way off the mark and completely derails.

Also directed by Bava, the son of Mario Bava of BLACK SUNDAY (Italy, 1960) fame as well as many other Italian horrors, the story seems to play out as a tragic romance turned ugly. However, why did it turn ugly? Stacey and Mark (John Hannah) loved each other very much, and Mark was a kind, funny and passionate man. Therefore, seeing him manifest as an angry spirit hellbent on killing makes absolutely no sense. And once logic is thrust by the wayside, not much else matters.

Worst still, the special effects and art department created a baby that looked and acted like Chucky without hair – though if they had used Brad Dourif’s voice, I would have loved it. Speaking of sound, like most Italian horrors it was awful as if the entire movie had been shot in silence and complete audio tracks were added later. The only thing worse, also a mainstay of Italian horror cinema, was Raimondo Aiello’s hack and slice editing. Why Italian horrors have not nailed these elements down over the past fifty friggin’ years is beyond me. And maybe this is why Italian horrors, except for Michele Soavi’s amazing CEMETERY MAN (Italy, 1994) and Corrado Farina’s enticing BABA YAGA (Italy, 1973), are weak due to over-acting and poor shooting quality. As far as horror cinema goes, it is usually over-rated – and why Dario Argento, Italy’s slightly better version of Ed Wood, is held in such high regard is beyond comprehension.

GHOST SON is no different. And even with some great acting from Harring, Hannah, Postlethwaite and Kaiser, the endeavor does very little to capture the imagination. If anything, it will leave horror fans wondering why the story took such a non-sensical left turn. No doubt, “possession” movie fans will be extremely disappointed.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010)

Fumbled opportunity 

A serial killer escapes – and he’s killing ever closer to his former girlfriend

If it wasn’t for the stellar performance of Amy Seimetz as Sarah, I would have walked away from this subtle attempt at a thriller after the inciting incident.

When convicted serial killer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) escapes from police custody, and goes back to his old tricks, his former girlfriend may end up a victim. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is straightforward with one grand surprise, but to get there, the audience must sit through a molasses-moving enterprise that doesn’t maintain interest or suspense.

Simon Barrett penned this tale and Director Adam Wingard made sure it ended up in the can. However, unlike skilled directors reveling in subtlety, such as Lance Weiler and his riveting THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) and fantastic HEAD TRAUMA (2006), Wingard’s artsiness gets in the way of story, and bogs the tale down at many a turn.

And although Bowen shined on occasion as the seemingly reluctant and guilt ridden killer of women, Seimetz kept the show afloat as the mentally scarred woman trying to hide in her Alcoholics Anonymous group to get through another day. Her performance is genuine and strong, reminiscent of Kristin Scott Thomas in I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (France, 2008) with some of Vera Farmiga’s strength in DOWN TO THE BONE (2004). Sadly, the bulk of the cast, especially Joe Swanberg and Lane Hughes, forgot they were trying to do something better than a guy running around with a super 8. This is most evident during that big surprise when Barrett went on vacation and forgot that quality dialogue was sorely needed; even worse, performances clearly waned during this vital scene. Sadly, that’s the moment that sank this picture for good. If it had been executed differently, this movie would have scored higher on the charts. Instead, it’s an “also ran” fit to collect dust on a shelf.

As an aside, Barrett took a page from Ted Tally’s script for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) and Wingard couldn’t help but continue with the lame homage, and mimicked Director Jonathan Demme’s approach to Turrell’s escape. Remember when Hannibal is all wrapped up like a sausage and his eyes zero in on Dr. Chilton’s pen? Well, it’s an itty-bitty screw rolling around in the bottom of a police van that gets Garrick Turrell’s attention. As in SILENCE, we never see how the maniacal killer gets a hold of said object. Regardless, this little element proves to be the key to freedom so the bloodletting can commence.

However, Wingard does have some skills, and cinematographers Chris Hilleke and Mark Shelhorse helped him look good on occasion – though their extensive use of out of focus shots and out of frame maneuvers became tiresome and undermined their attempts at thematic resonance.

If you’re a serial killer fanatic, stick with John Naughton’s HENRY: PORTRAIT OF SERIAL KILLER (1986) if your desire is to get into the disturbing muck of it all. Otherwise, leave this one behind – unless you want to see how Seimetz may have broken through to bigger and better things.

2 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: SCREAM 4 (2011)

So corny it seemed the Wayan’s brothers were responsible

Sidney Prescott comes home and Ghostface goes on the rampage…

With some wonderful reviews from SCREAM (1996) fans, it took little thought to dive into this fourth segment. After all, Kevin Williamson, the screenwriter behind the original feature had penned the script, and after a ten-year hiatus from the franchise, Wes Craven surely would have brought something new to the experience.

Wrong.

Williamson’s story was more comedy than horror – and cheap, stupid comedy at that. Quite often, it appeared as if the material was straight out of SCARY MOVIE (2000). Granted, Dewey Reily (David Arquette) was always dumb, but new idiocy is reached with dumber deputy sidekick, Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) who can’t wait to draw her weapon on anything at any time. Furthermore, how big is Woodsboro anyway? Seems Sheriff Reily and his crew had to travel dozens of miles to get to point B when they were needed most – and they always arrived after the fact, of course. Timing, as in most ridiculous horrors, was way off the mark and far removed from reality.

And even though Williamson does his best to poke fun at sequels and pathetic remakes, his sequel is far from worthwhile since the comedy, horror and playful spoofing is childish and banal. Then again, it seems the screenwriter may have been lost in his own effort to include story twists since he had missed at least two deadlines before filming. One wonders if he had just said, “Fuck it” and turned in his latest draft without making certain it had been squared away.

Though this may be sacrilege, I never felt Craven had lived up to the moniker of “master of horror”, and found SCREAM to be his best venture. Yes, even more so than THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). As a director, he never seemed to go that extra mile to drum up the suspense and keep the audience guessing. Once again, he doesn’t bring us to the brink. In fact, the story is so hackneyed, further plagued by camera angles long established and tiresome, sleep ensued at one point.

As for the tired tale we’re used to seeing from the franchise, audience members probably spent more time guessing who comprised Ghostface this time around, though in the end, it wasn’t a shock and the relevance didn’t really matter.

The producers (The Weinstein Company), Williamson and Craven, served up the same old scene once again to try and delight fans on a base and mundane level instead of serving up a new and improved dish (something Peni and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY enterprise tries to do). Therefore, the audience falls victim to the musings of the initial players who rail against sequels and remakes, and the aforementioned all become victims of their own joke. However, the real victims, once again, are audience members that tolerate below average entertainment from the film’s braintrust that have become their own whores to sell and sell again in order to cash in.

If there ever is a SCREAM 5, and I doubt there will be, I only hope the years of experience Williamson and Craven possess will lead to something as new and as riveting as their first installment.

1 out of 5 stars