Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Burning (1981)

Fear 1/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 1/5

More a historical artifact than a decent horror film, The Burning is chock full of young actors who would later go on to "legit" acting careers - Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, the guy that played Mark Ratner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and some others. Additionally, this was one of the first films Miramax released and is written by the Weinstein brothers - total Hollywood power dudes now. It also features some very effective gore effects from Tom Savini.

As a slasher film, it's not bad, but then it's not awesome either. Slasher films are not really my favorite and the endless number that were cranked out following the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th doesn't really endear them to me either. Still, I enjoyed this one, if only because it was fun to see George Costanza with a full head of hair.

Basic slasher / summer camp horror here straying little to not at all from the standards: a prank goes wrong and the mean old caretaker at a summer camp is burned beyond recognition. He spends the next 5 years in a hospital recovering and when he is released, he makes a beeline for the camp to start exacting his revenge on kids and counselors. Well - first he makes a quick pit stop at hourly motel to stab a hooker to death, but otherwise he's heading right for the woods. The camp is populated by nerds, hot chicks, bullies and counselors who want to make a difference, but still want to be "one of the gang". It's a lot like Meatballs. Or corporate America.

The scares and gore are minimal, but worth your time. There is a scene where a whole slew of kids are killed that is particularly nasty and (Wikipedia would have me believe) caused quite a hub-bub when it was released.

Entertaining? Sure. Good? Meh. Gory? Yeah, kind of. Worth seeing? If you see it on the cheap, absolutely. But again, probably more for the historical aspect.




- Complaint Department

Opera (1987)

Fear 2/5
Gore 4/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 2/5

More than any other "horror" director, Dario Argento understands that the horror genre's greatest strengths lie in it's visuals. Italian horror films are often more visually striking than their American counterparts, but Argento is a master at using color and crazy camera work to make his point. In the same way that he took several nods from Hitchcock, one could argue that Sam Raimi took his from Argento.

Opera is no exception with it's dizzying cinematography, ornate and quasi-gothic sets and terrifying use of small spaces, close ups and color. In fact, the story is almost secondary to the spectacle, but it's not too bad.

When a world famous opera diva is injured after throwing a tantrum during rehearsal, the understudy is called up for her debut in Verdi's MacBeth. She is worried due to the reputation of the opera as being bad luck, but performs anyway much to the delight of opera fans throughout Italy. Meanwhile, however, members of the crew start dying off one by one as they are hideously (and meticulously as is Argento's style) murdered by a masked madman. The kicker is that each murder occurs in front of the understudy who is tied up and forced to watch by having a strip of nails taped under her eyes. If she were to close them, she would puncture them. It's all very macabre and gruesome.

The kill-scenes are particularly icky, and given the beauty and "classiness" of the other scenes in the film, they feel almost dirty which makes for very effective sequences of shock and horror - again, something Argento excels at. Add in some very bad, but strangely toe-tappin' German sounding 80's heavy metal and they get even better.

Opera is tense and taut throughout, and creepy in a weird way, though not maybe intentionally. It may just be that this is a very European film and I'm just very American. Regardless, it's damn good.



- Complaint Department

DORM (2006)

Fear 1/5
Gore 0/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 2/5
Nightmares 0/5

Asia cranks out ghost films like there is a some sort of assembly line factory out there working 24/7. And while Dorm falls under the same umbrella as any number of films in that genre, it's hardly a horror film despite it's creepy atmosphere and ghosties.

The film follows a young boy sent to boarding school by his grumpy father. The kid is kind of nerdy and becomes the target of a group of bullies who set about taunting him and poking fun at him. They tell him some creepy stories one night in an attempt to scare him. What they don't realize is that the stories are not so far from fact.

The twist here is that the ghost is not an evil spirit intent on revenge or having it's story revealed. The ghost and the boy become close friends which is where the movie gets interesting. The story is touching at times, sad at others, but ends well without being totally unbelievable and ridiculous. And it looks good as well, despite it's lack of American-sized budget. The effects are few and far between, tasteful and well done. Aside from a series of very distracting continuity errors, Dorm proved itself to be entertaining and smart, if not scary or horrifying.

If you enjoy Asian ghost films, but are interested in something a little less spooky and different, Dorm might be worth your time.



- Complaint Department

Cloverfield (2007)

Fear 0/5
Gore 0/5
Entertainment 0/5
Creepiness 0/5
Nightmares 0/5

Went and saw this on the advice of a friend who said it terrified him. I now think that he was being sarcastic.

You may have heard what Cloverfield is about. You may have these ideas in your head that it's a monster movie. You are incorrect. Cloverfield is about a douchebaggy yuppie and his equally douchbaggy yuppie girlfriend that he let "get away". When a giant, Godzilla-esque monster attacks NYC and everyone tries to get away, he insists on buying cell phone batteries so he can call her. He insists on sneaking through subway tunnels so he can reach her. He convinces the military to let him go and keep looking for her. And he manages to get his equally douchebaggy yuppie friends to come along with him since they have, obviously, no survival instincts at all. Meanwhile, they fend off thousands of insect like monsters, manage to slip through the crossfire between the Army and the giant monster, climb from the rooftop of a skyscraper onto the roof of the neighboring, about-to-topple skyscraper and - miracle of miracles, find the girlfriend, injured, but otherwise totally fine.

Imagine The Host, but really really bad. Then imagine that it was written by a 12 year old girl whose idea of "love" and "romance" is about as mature and developed as her ability to perform quantum physics. They even manage to slip in a pretty horse in one scene (in downtown Manhattan). 12 year old girl. I really believe it.

The concept sounds good - the film is presented as though it were found footage from a camcorder that the Department of Defense picked up after, apparently, they killed off the monster. But that's where the cleverness ends and the film is completely fucked in every other way. The acting is deplorable, the dialogue so unnatural, the fact that the person with the camera insists on continuing to film everything "so that the world will know" so annoying - oh my God this is terrible movie. I hated it and suggest that everyone reading this avoid it. It's not a bad in a fun way, it's just terrible. No scares, cheesy CGI, dumb script, dumb everything. Awful, heinous film making and a punch in the balls to everyone who has ever worked on a Godzilla film. Ugh, I think I just threw up a little bit.

- Complaint Department

****************************************************************************
Fear 4/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 2/5
Nightmares 1/5

Thank god my dear friend, you finally got around to watching this and I knew you would absolutely hate it. As stated, Mr. Complaint Department and I have varying tastes. He loves Michael McDonald while I only have a place in my heart for Phil Collins. He loves Black Metal and I think its shit (minus a few, namely Satyricon and Celtic Frost).

I thought Cloverfield was incredibly original and it reinvigorates a genre that has become old hat. Now I can't stand JJ Abrams holier than thou bravado on Lost. I wasted a year of my life watching it and cannot understand why so many damn people love this show. The fact that you have to follow every god damn thing shown on each episode (‘Holy fuck did you see the talking shark that was wearing a pink dress in the last episode?’) in the vain attempt to get some sort of answer in regards to this cluster fuck of a show. Is it a government conspiracy or is everyone trapped on some level of heaven or hell? Complete and utter bullshit, but I digress.

What I thought was so great about Cloverfield was that you felt the sheer terror and emotion being expressed by everyone involved. Imagine hanging with a group of friends (yuppie or not), minding your own business when Baddy McBadderson monster comes stomping through town, hurling building facades like they are pick-up sticks. The capturing of the fear, anxiety and just overall confusion on what was going down was portrayed very realistically (some scenes were very reminiscent of images played by the media during 9/11).

As for the dialogue? Yeah it was pretty dumb, I’ll give Complainty that much. But how the fuck would you act if a monster (not a fucking man in a rubber suit stomping on models of Tokyo city, with gasping Tokyo-ites pointing in amazement) came trapsing through your hood being a buzzkill on your party? Instead what this film captured was the sheer horror that comes with any sort of natural disaster (orchestrated by a monster or not). And when has a monster movie ever been Shakespearian theater?

Did I mention the monster? Not only was it ridiculously cool looking, but it had little mini monsters that spouted off from it, killing everyone in its wake and ripping peeps to shreds. And if some poor chap got bitten, they became infected and eventually exploded from whatever venomous contents were spewed forth. Yes the CGI was bad and cheesy, what CGI effects aren’t? I can’t remember a movie that I’ve seen were CGI ever looked entirely realistic.

What Cloverfield does so well, and what it does to remind us of why we go to movies in the first place, is create real tension and scares (yes, there were some jump out of your seat moments including an intense scene in a subway tunnel) which makes for a fun movie watching experience. When people are curled in the fetal position in their chairs or let out a scream during a particularly intense moment, I’d say that that’s a job well done. I will say so indeed. I really enjoyed this movie. Fuck a dude in a rubber suit stomping around a model of downtown Tokyo. Give me this any day of the week and twice on Sunday.



Cortez the Killer

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fright Night (1985)

Fear 1/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 0/5
Nightmares 05

Goofy and cheesy, though totally entertaining slice of 80's horror. While it's no gorefest like the films from that era, it was obviously done with love and respect for the horror genre.

Fright Night successfully blends a little comedy with what can only be described as a loving homage to the Hammer Films of the 50's and 60's, especially when it comes to the atmosphere of the creepy house that's the main locale of the film. Essentially a vampire film, Fright Night follows three teenagers as they do battle with a hunky looking, be-mulleted bloodsucker and his (possibly gay) helper guy. Along the way they pick up an aging character actor who hosts the late night horror program on the local independent TV station (played wonderfully by Roddy McDowell).

It's hokey, it's silly and the special effects are kind of cheesy, and yet, it all kind of works even though I found myself laughing and rolling my eyes more than I did covering them. Not really a classic 80's film, but a fun one and certain worth seeing. Though, if you're over the age of 25, you may just laugh at it.



-Complaint Dept

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hatchet (2006)


Fear 1/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 1/5
Nightmares 0/5


I cannot think of a horror movie more hyped (over?) in recent memory than this flick. No major movie theater chain would touch it with a ten foot pole. An online 'petition' was created on the film's website just to get it distributed to smaller, more independent movie houses. You'd think from the looks of things that this was the most controversial horror movie ever committed to celluloid. So vile and disgusting, a harken back to 70's extreme horror goodness. Was the film worth all the fuss? A resounding 'hell no' would come from the lips of this reviewer after being a sucker and purchasing it at my local Best Buy. Damn you viral marketing!!

Hatchet follows the course of just about every slasher movie ever made: a group of college kids go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, get their drink on, and simultaneously throw beads in the hopes of boobies galore. One of the cohorts, still stewing after a recent break up with a lady friend, is swayed by his buddies to check out a swamp excursion into the bayou with a tour guide that has a penchant for telling stories about ghosts and the macabre.
So he and a couple of friends break off from the main group to track down this tour guide. They come across a shop in which the tour guide does business from, put down their dinero, and pay for an evening with a group of other suckers (er, I mean tourists) to set sail down the bayou and listen to some good ol' ghost stories that are supposed to give you the heebie jeebies.
Embarking on their trip, the dude, his buddies, and a rag tag group of other folks are amused by the tour guides story of one Mr. Victor Crowley. As 'legend has it', Victor was born as a deformed child, only loved by his father and teased by all the local kids. One night, his father went out, and the kiddies of the 'hood decide to have a little fun throwing flares into the house. Little Crowley gets lit up like a Christmas tree and burns to his death like a crispy critter (or so its believed, MuaHahaHahaHa).

Guess who terrorizes the group of tourists all the way through the end of the film? A deformed, mangled, hulkish looking dude slicing and dicing his way through each victim. Standard slasher film fare here folks: imposing figure hunts down 'unsuspecting' group, your mismash of stereotypical personalties that get the axe, and really cheesy one liners that are dispensed more than a 7-Eleven slurpee machine.

I can't figure out why this film got so much hype (and why the closest theater showing this in my area was in Austin). It has some decently done gore but other than that, not too many other redeeming qualities. The running time sucked at 1:16 (are you kidding me, you can't even make a film an hour and a half long???). And does every horror movie made in the last 10 years need a cameo by this guy and this guy? Well lucky for you kiddos, you get both of these clowns.

Cortez the Killer

* * * * *

Fear 1/5
Gore 5/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 0/5
Nightmares 0/5

Cortez and I hold differing opinions on a few things. He likes Pantera. I think they are a sucky Metallica cover band and a bunch of glam-posers. He loved a movie called Dead and Breakfast which I thought was horrendous. He hated Hatchet - I liked it.

I wouldn't say I had low expectations about the film, but I would say all I was expecting was gore and in that department it delivered big time. Sure, they spent way too much time yukkin' it up with cheap jokes, bad puns and one liners galore, but I'll admit I laughed a couple of times, despite shaking my head and feeling like a dope.

Cortez nailed the story line which is more of a nod to Friday The 13th than to any other 70's film. I wasn't really expecting to be grossed out the way Maniac or Last House on the Left got me and, to Cortez's point, I wasn't. And I also agree that the hype around this film was way overdone, and possibly marketed as a way to get more people to see the film on DVD since they knew they did not have the financial backing to get it into large numbers of theaters.

But that sort of thing doesn't bother me as long as the blood goes splashing and the heads start rolling, two qualities Hatchet excels at. The "kill scenes" in this movie are truly over the top and splatterific. Very well done, very ridiculous, very fun.

So bravo Hatchet - as far as I am concerned, you accomplished your goal: I was grossed out, I turned my brain off and I had a fun hour and a half.

Well, ok, not quite and hour and a half. You're also correct there Mr. Cortez.

- Complaint Department

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Orphanage (2007)

Fear 3/5
Gore 3/5 (for one spectacular scene)
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 3/5
Nightmares 1/5

Excellent ghost story from executive producer Guillermo Del Toro. The story is not necessarily a new one - ghost seeks living person to tell their tale - but it is done with such skill and, well, tenderness, that it feels new.

The story is pretty straight forward, though some good twists and turns are tossed in near the end: Main character Laura, along with her husband and small boy, move into the old orphanage she briefly lived in as a child with the intention of renovating the house and starting her own orphanage. Her own son, we learn , is adopted and also HIV positive, though he does not know any of this.

The son has some imaginary friends that showed up around the time that the family moved in, though this is chalked up to his being lonely. Soon, however, he begins to explain to his parents that his friends are telling him things that he could not have known - for example, that he was adopted. Around this time, a strange old woman appears claiming to be a social worker checking in on Laura's son. Laura gets suspicious and sends her home, only to find her hiding in the tool shed later that night trying to break in (she runs off).

When Laura's son goes missing, a long and painful manhunt begins for the child and after 9 months, things begin to look very bleak. Laura, however, is convinced that her child is alive and has come to believe that the imaginary friends her son had were, actually, ghosts inhabiting the old building. Psychics and mediums are called in and in a very tense and spooky scene that could have been pulled from any number of "ghost hunter" type "reality" shows, we come to learn that there may, indeed, be spirits haunting the home. Sadly, Laura is the only person who seems to be buying into this and she makes it her only goal in life to find out what happened to her son.

The Orphanage is spooky and downright creepy at times. There are some great scares and jolts and the special effects are very low key. There are no CGI monsters, no see-through apparitions, no dumbed down boogeymen waiting to spoil the film. It's smart, tasteful, very well executed and, occasionally, very original. The ending is no surprise, but it still manages to touch a nerve and had me close to watery eyes. . . what is this salty discharge? I care Elaine! I CARE!



- Complaint Dept

Friday, January 11, 2008

Preview--Diary of the Dead


From the legendary George Romero, comes a new tale of the walking dead. His last outing, Land of the Dead, was fairly dull and uninventive, but this looks really interesting. The contest to create your own horror flick as an addition to the DVD release (presumably after it has already expired at the theater) is pretty cool. Visit the Myspace page of the film to see an exclusive trailer.
Cortez the Killer

Friday, January 4, 2008

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Fear 1/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 1/5
Nightmares 0/5
The sequel to Sam Raimi's one and only true masterpiece, Evil Dead, comes some 6 years after the original. It's often been said that it's simply a more comical remake of the first, but this isn't the case. The story goes that due to budget constraints and disputes with the film studio, Raimi was unable to secure neither the original cast nor footage from the first film. So the first 10 minutes of the film may seem like it's a remake, but it's really just a quick recap of the first film. Everything after Bruce Campbell's first possession scene is a new story.
But of course, when I say "new story", I'm really saying very similar events with a very similar plot in the exact same location. So - remake or sequel? The debate continues.
What's certainly not debatable is that where Evil Dead was a splattery, gory indie film with zombies, demons and buckets and buckets of blood, the sequel is a bit more tame and a LOT sillier. It's almost fair to say that Evil Dead II is nothing more than an extended episode of The Three Stooges or Tom & Jerry where the actual results of whacking a guy with a shovel or placing someone's head in a vice are shown. It's a funny movie, the highlight being Bruce Campbell's incredibly over-the-top performance (his freak out upon seeing that the bridge is out is fantastic).
Campbell, is in fact, the best thing about the film hands down. The effects are decent, if hokey. The monsters are obviously made of rubber and not made very well at that. But Campbell is consistently working his ass off to entertain and you gotta love the guy for that.
Evil Dead II is in no way as good as the first film (but how could it be?). And, it's really not even as good as Army of Darkness, the third in the series. But it's perfect for a late night showing with some friends, some beers and a lot of laughs. Just don't expect the splatterific genius of the first one.
- Complaint Department

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Re-Animator (1985)

Fear 1/5
Gore 5/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 3/5
Nightmares 0/5

The Re-Animator is a classic of the splatter genre, much like Slayer's "Reign in Blood" is to metal or Bad Brains' "ROIR Sessions" is to hardcore. Everything one thinks of when they hear the word "splatter" is here in sloshy buckets - bone saw through the torso in agonizing close-up? CHECK. Living and speaking dismembered head being carried around by it's headless body? CHECK. Eye gouging and exploding eyes? CHECK! In 1985, the horror community had not seen anything as goofbally and disgusting since 1979's Evil Dead.

Based loosely on a H.P. Lovecraft novel of the same name, The Re-Animator follows a young medical student as he is expelled from a prestigious medical school in Switzerland after his mentor dies during a gruesome experiment designed to test a glowing green serum that "re-animates" the dead. The student, one Herbert West, may or may not have been responsible for the good doctor's eyeball-exploding death, suffice it to say he is now back in the States looking to start right where he left off.

West is partnered with a fellow student named Dan and soon moves in with him. Dan is clandestinely dating the dean's daughter and is, by all accounts, kind of a wishy-washy guy, mediocre in all aspects. Both Dan and West are students in a class taught by Dr. Hill who has his own secret crush on the dean's daughter as well as a track record of plagiarizing the work of West's dead mentor. It is the latter that generates hostility and intense competition between Dr. Hill and West - hostilities that will come to a "head" later in the film (bwaaahahahaha!)

The Re-Animator is ridiculously gory and pushes every envelope it can. Where as in other films Dr. Hill's secret desire for the Dean's daughter might expose itself by his kidnapping her and holding her for ransom, here we have the Doctor's headless torso kidnap her, strap her down naked to a surgical gurney and begin to fondle her boobs - all while the doctor's gory and re-animated head looks on from a baking pan sitting beside her, moaning with pleasure and drooling with ecstasy. It's so fucking ridiculous that no matter how offensive one may think it is, you can't help but laugh.

Which is the point. The film really isn't about scaring anyone or making one think about anything - it's the opposite. It's mindless, juvenile fun. Granted, the story is a little hokey, kind of a Frankenstein-on-steroids type deal, but the smarmy, sarcastic, dickhead performance by Jeffrey Coombs is great and the special effects are top notch for a small independent film from 1985. Even by today's standards the effects are pretty well done. And not a computer generated image to be found.

One of my all time favorites, The Re-Animator was recently reissued as a double DVD set with wide screen and TV screen versions as well as tons of outtakes and a 70 minute documentary about the film and it's impact on the horror community. Highly recommended.



- Complaint Department