Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peeping Tom (1960)



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

The story goes that this film nearly ruined director Micheal Powell's career. The themes explored - serial murder, child abuse, sexual fetishism, weird German dudes pretending to be British - are still pretty creepy-eepy today. Most respected film critics approach Peeping Tom as a masterpiece, a film that is not only about voyeurism, but is voyeuristic itself, drawing the audience in to the murders and weird stuff going on up on screen. Fair enough, but I'm not that refined. I mean, I like a good bottle of "murlitt" as much as the next dude, but I mainly liked to be weirded out.

Peeping Tom does a good job or being creepy, mainly based on the strengths of lead actor Carl Boehm who comes across as genuinely weird. Caressing and cradling his camera everywhere he goes, it's the subtle things he does as he is playing the abused and damaged lead character that make this film so effective. But there are other things as well - the camera work is great, often putting the audience behind the lens as the victims are dispatched (the way they are killed, though we are only told about it, is pretty nasty and disturbing).

So the story goes like this - Boehm plays a photographer whose day job is to assist the head cameraman at a large film studio. To earn extra money he takes racy snapshots of nude models in a makeshift studio above a convenience store. He's shy, weird and skittish and looks like a genuinely strange guy. He also kills women in his spare time, a practice that seems to disgust him while also getting kinky pleasure from it. We later learn his strange secret involving his abusive and equally perverse psychologist father and it all starts to make sense - sort of. The psychology is very film-worldy and doesn't make a ton of sense, but you get the idea and can see why the guy is so wacky.

There's a great scene involving the blind mother of his downstairs neighbor, a woman he has become close to and is obsessed with. The interaction between the two of them in the tight and darkly lit studio he occupies is almost scarier than any other part of the film.

Peeping Tom is a cool movie that kept my attention and made me think afterwards. I don't know if it's a masterpiece or not, all I know is I liked it and would recommend it to other psychological thriller fans. I also liked Old School and own it on DVD.

- Complaint Dept

Shutter (2008)



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

Bland, tame, PG-13 and boring remake of the 2004 Thai film of the same title. It's a bad sign when you're 37 years old and you are TWICE the age of literally every other person in the theater.

I wonder if there are departments in each of the major Hollywood studios that are dedicated only to "re-imagining" Asian ghost films. How many times do I have to sit through the same cranky female ghost story, be subjected to the same cheapo scares and see the same resolution? You've seen Shutter countless times, it was just called something else.

Stars a guy from Dawson's Creek and a guy from the Office. And some blonde girl. And a totally non-scary Japanese girl as "the ghost". You see the twist end coming from the first frame - from the trailer even.

So so glad this was free.

- Complaint Dept.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Fear: 1/5
Gore 1/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 2/5
I'm not sure why I expected this to be a dud. Perhaps because it's rated PG, maybe because it's a remake, possibly because the poster makes it look very cheap and dopey. Regardless, it's actually pretty damn good.

This version is pretty faithful to the original version, though updated where necessary to reflect the (then) current times. America was a much different place in 1978 than it was in the mid 1950s. Vietnam and Watergate had vastly eroded it's citizen's belief in itself. The flower power movement had crashed and burned with Altamont and the death of so many young rock stars. Disco was in full swing, fueled by cheap coke and cheaper sex. Jimmy Carter was the President and waiting in the wings for the quiet takeover of the 80s - the Yuppies. Instead reflecting the 50's paranoia about McCarthyism and rampant censorship, the 70's version warns us to be paranoid about everyone, not just the government - your boyfriend, the police, your co-workers, the unqualified self-help gurus of the world.

The film boasts an impressive cast and is directed by Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff, and more recently, the excellent Quills). And while it doesn't look particularly snazzy or involve any fantastic special effects, there is something about the stark 'plain' way in which the film is shot that works to it's advantage. Donald Sutherland is very good in his role as the hairy, cuddly sensitive 70's dude that, along with Brooke Adams, begins to notice that something is not quite right. It also features a young (but no less creepy) Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright (who would go on to play the girl in Alien who never, never stops crying) and Leonard Nimoy. There is also a weird and uncredited cameo from Robert Duvall in the film's opening scene that serves no real purpose.

If you are not familiar with the storyline, I'll sum it up quickly - aliens come from outer space and take over the bodies of the living. They grow from big pods and steal the "essence" of each body they replace, but live without fear, hate, or any other cumbersome emotion. In a brilliantly ironic twist, Leonard Nimoy's character, a self help "doctor" ala Dr. Phil, turns out to be a pod person who calmly and Spock-ly explains the benefits of living without emotion.

Despite it's lack of big scares, good special effects (the opening sequence is particularly bad as is the man-headed dog) and near total lack of blood, it all works because the story is so well done and performed. There is a real feeling of paranoia here and as the film builds to it's conclusion it gets pretty tense leading up to a great ending.

- Complaint Dept

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)


Fear 1/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 1/5
Lindsay Lohan Factor 5/5


I really wanted to hate this movie. A good buddy of mine who also loves this celebrated genre of film that we review on this site, highly recommended it (and with a straight face). In all honesty, I had not heard anything about it since it came out, not even giving it a chance due to my assumption that because of Ms. Lohan's involvement, it would automatically bring the suck. Well surprise surprise, not necessarily a classic by any means, but this film definitely entertained.

So like most other teen horror films, Lindsay Lo is the stereotypical: loved and adored, popular girl in school with seemingly no imperfections. After a high school football game, she inexplicably disappears and her friends and boyfriend frantically search for her. She awakens to find herself strapped to a table, with a smorgasboard of cutting utensils lined on a tray beside her. But these are no ordinary blades or saws. Throughout the room that she is held captive in, blown glass figures hang from the ceiling. Each cutting instrument is fashioned in odd ways: some long, some short, some are jagged and others are smooth and all are made out of glass. A masked man enters the picture and begins to cut his way through her arm and leg.
LL awakens to find herself with family and friends around her, only she has no idea who the hell any of them are. They call her by name and she quizzically looks at them as if they are all smoking from the same collective crack pipe. She tears off her blanket to reveal that she is missing her right hand and leg. The family takes her home, all the while in denial that this is her family and she is not the person who they claim her to be.

A hokey but entertaining Scooby Doo plot unfolds with a detective seeking to find 'the truth' (and some amazing dialogue is provided by him), Ms. Lohan who continues to deny she is who they say she is (and boy oh boy, some hot scenes with her on a stripper pole), a killer who stalks women and ends them in the same fashion that Ms. Lohan almost succumbed to, and an ending that actually surprised the hell out of me. Yes, a movie with Lohan that has a 'surprise' ending and an involving plot. My buddy said it best: 'its like the Parent Trap but with gore'.

Cortez the Killer

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ravenous (1999)

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

Excellent film about cannibalism and vampirism with great performances from Robert Carlyle and Guy Pierce (whatever happened to that guy?). 

Set in the mid 1800s, the film follows Pierce who plays an American soldier mistakenly awarded some medal of honor for infiltrating enemy lines during the Spanish American War, and capturing a regimen of guys. In fact, Pierce's act of bravery was accomplished by playing dead while his friends and comrades were all gunned down around him. As he was piled onto the cart with all of the other dead bodies he lay beneath several corpses whose blood drained into his mouth and down his throat. This "changed" him and allowed himself to crawl out and capture the bad guys. 

His superior officers know all of this and are forced to award him the medal, but then promptly assign his ass to an isolated post in the Sierra Nevada's as punishment for being a coward. There he lives with a very small group of soldiers and two native guides. All is calm and quiet until Robert Carlyle arrives one night, emaciated and on death's door. After being nursed to health, he tells a horrible story of survival wherein he and the others he was traveling with were stranded in the mountains with no food, forced to resort to cannibalism. As the group dwindled down to just three, he knew he was next on the "chopping block" and took off on his own, hoping for the best. 

Being soldiers, they all know that they must go back out to where Carlyle was stranded and try to rescue to other two so off they go with Carlyle leading the way. When they arrive, things turn out to be different than they were led to believe. 

Ravenous is, at it's heart, a vampire movie with bad guys that are easy to sympathize with (it's just their nature) and concepts that will be familiar to any vampire fan (cannibalism giving one superhuman strength and healing powers). But it's also a great period piece with very strong performances from Jeffrey Jones, Henry Thomas and David Arquette as well as a smart, tense and, at times, darkly funny script. But make no mistake, there are some bloody and gory scenes that (if the subject matter alone didn't already) grimly remind the viewer that this is, indeed, a true horror film. 

An under appreciated and well done film worth seeking out. 

- Complaint Dept



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bruiser (2001)

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

Terrible, awful movie that comes across as though it were made for the Lifetime network. Mr. Romero, please, for the love of cheese, stick with zombies and try not to stray. 

Bruiser is a sad and amateurish blend of film noir detective stuff and paranormal psycho killer stuff - like Orson Welles and Dario Argento mixed with an unhealthy dose of mental retardation. It follows a corporate middle manager who is pushed around by his douchebag Euro boss, his sleazy whore wife and his thieving best friend/accountant. He wakes up one morning with his face blanked out into a solid white mask (symbolizing his rebirth and lack of established identity) and begins to kill each of them off in slow, bloodless ways. 

It's boring, poorly acted, lacking in style, and has terrifyingly bad dialogue - not to mention a long and drawn out (and embarrassing) cameo by everyone's favorite has-beens, The Misfits (minus Glenn of course who was off pumping iron and buying Rogaine). I have nothing more to say about this turd. Skip. 

- Complaint Department

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Phenomena (aka Creepers) (1985)

Fear 1/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 1/5

Lackluster and disappointing film that's more corny than anything else. If you are looking for an introduction to Dario Argento's classic horror films, this is probably not the place to start, though it does feature Jennifer Connolly in a very early role. And it has a knife wielding chimpanzee.

Connolly plays a foreign exchange student living in a school where some unexplained murders are taking place (if you're familiar with Argento you'll quickly recognize this plot). What the other students don't know is that she is able to communicate with insects. This soon becomes apparent to the local wheelchair bound etymologist (played to the hammy hilt by Donald Pleasance - complete with bad Scottish accent). As she and the doctor begin to use her telepathic powers to start figuring out who is killing the students, the killer starts hunting them down. A diabolical game of cat and mouse! Egads!

There are some icky moments here that show off Argento's ability to startle and gross-out (if I can use that phrase as a verb), especially a pool of grody looking goo filled with decaying corpses that Connolly is forced to swim through. But for the most part, the violence and gore is relatively tame for an Argento film - hell, for an Italian horror film in general. And while the bad dubbing, cheezy dialogue and wooden acting often works in Argento's favor (don't ask me how, it just does), it simply fails here. It's just crummy. I like the Iron Maiden song though.

Sorry Beard, I was less than impressed. And kind of let down. I feel like you cheated me. Next time I see you, it's on. Fisticuffs muthafucka!!

(And yes, there really is a chimpanzee that wields a switchblade here. For real. )

- Complaint Department

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Descent (2006)

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

The best horror film for 2006, hands down, The Descent simmers and boils with intense energy and tension and then explodes into a non stop, gory action ending that is best viewed though the unrated Director's Cut (as opposed to U.S. theatrical release which has a different ending). It was released around the same time as The Cave and totally kicks it's ass despite The Cave's bigger budget and marketing scheme.

The Descent follows the blueprint of all great horror films by sticking to the three tried and true methods of great horror film making:

1) Keeping the story and situation simple - a group of spelunkers are trapped in pitch black darkness after the cave they are exploring collapses behind them. And they are not alone. Mwahahahaha!

2) Understanding the limitations of your budget and the audience's threshold for suspending belief - there are monsters here, but they are well done and the crew manages to keep the "oh geez" factor to a low minimum.

Lastly, 3) a well written script with actors who act instead of flub their way through the storyline.

So yeah, I'll be the first to admit that monsters rarely do it for me. Generally, they appear to be made of rubber or, worse, terrible CGI effects. They usually fail to scare me and generally seem too unbelievable for me to take seriously in any way. Here, however, like in director Neil Marshall's previous film, 2002's Dog Soldiers, (or even 1979's Alien for that matter), the monsters are shown in quick glimpses or partially hidden in the shadows. They move fast and they are filmed in ways that make them appear very menacing, not to mention the terrible sound they make. And while they do start appearing more and more and become more visible as the film moves forward, by the time you start thinking "those guys look kinda kooky" you're already hooked in and having a blast.

This is partially because the monster guys don't even show up until about three quarters of the way through. They are the pay off to a slow, bubbling series of scenes that are really freaky - especially if you are claustrophobic...which if you are not, you might be after watching this. The real monster in this movie is the cave itself, a masterpiece of set design, lighting and cinematography. I'm telling you, the first half of this movie is way scary and does an excellent job of setting up the heavy and non-stop roller coaster ride of the second half.

The Descent is an excellent film, horror or not. The Director's Cut is much gorier than the US version and has a much more satisfying ending (if you like horror). There is not much missing here that a die-hard horror fan would want: gore, action, monsters, fear, great story, and a hell of a good time. Most excellent, mooooost excellent.



- Complaint Dept