Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Exorcism (2010)

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

I'm going to tread lightly with this review. To delve too far into it would really kill the twists and turns that this film takes. Most likely, we've all been raised with some sort of religion in our lives. How we view it now and its current role will vary from person to person a great deal. For me personally, this film epitomizes how I feel about religion in the modern age. I won't discuss that here in this review as I want to save the discussion for a later date after you (and subsequently more people) get a chance to see it. At face value, The Last Exorcism is a terrifying horror film. One that takes the conventions and trappings of your garden variety demonic possession film and turns them on it's head.

Immediately, we are introduced to a southern reverend who's a bit of a rockstar of his town and church in Louisiana. Seeing him at work is a sight to behold and when he's at the top of his game, he can say whatever he wants to his congregation. And along with it, comes nods of unquestioning acceptance. To prove his point, he recites his mother's banana nut bread recipe mid sermon, unbeknownst to the entranced congregation. This swagger and master showmanship is also seen with his other family specialty: performing exorcisms.

As the camera begins to role, we learn that he plans to document his last 'exorcism.' He's set out to document this last exorcism as he wants to get out of the 'business' as he's learned of a child actually dying mid performance. He wants to reveal the true nature of it as well as expose it for what it really is. What he gets when he goes out to a family's rural farm is a lot more than he bargained for.

We arrive at the farm and learn that the farmer's daughter is afflicted with, what the farmer believes to be, a healthy case of demonic possession. Proof positive to him is the livestock that are being killed and the other strange behaviors that his daughter is exhibiting. As he begins to perform the ritual the pastor, having submerged her feet into a watery bath, notices the water beginning to boil. Despite this and the other occurances which the father has described, the pastor really thinks nothing of it and proceeds with the rest of the rites. Along with his son, the father enters the girl's room and the pastor finishes the 'exorcism.' But after the 'act' is performed, and we think the pastor and his filming crew have a clean exit out of town, the girl shows up in his motel room that night.

And really that's all that I'd like to get into at this point. The only other thing that I'll say is that, obviously, pastor and crew stick around and things escalate with the girl performing violent acts on family, animals and then turning her focus to pastor and crew. We learn that all is not as it seems and other people who have been a part of her life re-enter the picture. With the shocking conclusion, you could literally feel the air being sucked out of the theater.

The year isn't over yet, but this film is definitely at the top of my list for best horror film of 2010. It would be easy to travel down the path of that 'other' infamous demonic possession movie. But thankfully, The Last Exorcism does not. And when more folks have a chance to see it, and I can provide more commentary that isn't as spoiler-ish, I want to revisit the themes of this film. Explicitly implied or not.

Cortez the Killer

* * * *

Fear 3/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 4/5
Creepiness 1/5

First thing to know about The Last Exorcism is that it is not what you expect it to be. The film will, inevitably, be compared to The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and the Blair Witch Project, but it is completely different from all three. Sure, it contains elements of all three films but it is not derivative of any of them in any kind of way. It is certainly it's own film and stands tall as a strong piece of filmaking, "horror" or not. In fact, one of the things my wife and I talked about afterwards was how well done it was. The mockumentary style is tough to pull off, and unless you are Christopher Guest and have a goofy, comedic take to start with, it's usually a failed genre. Not here.

For one thing, the acting is tremendously believable and lends a lot to the authentic feel. It's set in a rural location, but the characters are not one dimensional stereotypes. They have real emotions that cause real and legitimate actions to be taken. There is very little of what I call the Standard-Dumb-Ass-Horror-Plot-Mover at work here. Meaning there are no points where a character does something completely and totally stupid for the sake of creating tension or fostering a cheap scare.

Many will be drawn to the "found footage" aspects of the movie and will come in with expectations about what the film should look like, move like, etc. Don't do that because you might miss the good points by focusing too much on the errors. As an example, don't worry that a film that is all supposedly unedited footage of an unfinished documentary has a soundtrack. It's besides the point.

What works for The Last Exorcism works really, really well. It's scary and creepy, but not overblown. It treats it's subject matter objectively and, for the most part, very realistically. The pessimism and resignation of the Pastor, who readily admits that he is a sham who has mouths to feed is countered by the fact that despite the hocus pocus, he genuinely feels that what he has done with his life has been beneficial to his "patients". The scene where he offhandedly comments that what he really needs in his life right now is health insurance is something we can all relate to. And that goes for all of the characters. You can relate to all of them in some way or other - the despondent and desperate father, the disengaged and angry son, the terrified and confused girl.

Scary and creepy it is. There are some jolts and surprises that come out of nowhere and the gore is light, but very effective. It hits you hard and surprises you. The tension level is near perfect, ebbing and rising in ways that leave you always waiting for the next surprise, but never expecting it.

And then comes the end. A lot has been said about the end and I won't spoil it for anyone. I was not happy with the ending, though not for the reasons many others are citing. I simply feel that it didn't fit with the rest of the movie. As I described to Cortez, it felt like the film became a Peter Fonda movie from the 70's - schlocky, goofy and kind of dumb. In other words, it didn't feel worthy of the rest of the film's greatness.

Still, a really effective film - smart and thoughtful, philosophic at times, and really, genuinely scary when it required it.

Last note - watch for the Dead Kennedy's reference towards the end. I'm not sure if it was intentional or just a gaff on the researchers part, but it made me smile either way.

- Complaint Dept

Friday, August 27, 2010

Enter the Dark (2010)

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

Enter the Dark is a short film that borrows some from the found footage sub-genre but the device itself isn't a sole focus like it is with most films of that ilk. With a couple of interesting concepts and a neat little twist, it's an all around solid affair. But I couldn't help but want more after viewing it which is probably more indicative of my feelings on short films in general. More on that in a hot minute.

The film starts of with a husband and homeowner, sitting at his kitchen table, fidgeting with his video camera and talking to his reluctant buddy who's come over for a bit of moral support. You see, strange goings ons have been happening around the house for the past few months and things have escalated to a point where wife and kids have gotten the heck out of dodge. The husband laments to his friend and a nice reference to the sign o' the times is given as he declares the sale of the home due to current conditions not being an option. So he opts for trying to catch the events on camera and somehow, during the process, appease whatever spirit is stalking the family.

So the husband begs his skeptical friend to stay and play ghost hunters. Alternating between camera shots and bickering as the friend tries to convince him that it's all one big joke is interesting in and of itself. Its a natural conversation, one that feels like it would happen between two people who would find themselves in the same situation. Even in the face of a talking children's book (you know, the kind where you press a button and the book tells a part of the story or something), the friend says it's all a coincidence. But paranormal activity (oh, I just had to go there) levels soon increase quickly and both of our ghost hunters chase a dark figure into the attic. As the husband/homeowner leads his friend into the attic and promptly heads back out, we are exposed to the terror which has been haunting the family. The friend falls victim and as the film ends, we wonder if in fact the rest of the family really got out.

The main issue I had with the film, and is oftentimes the case with most shorts I watch, is length. Now that might seem like a 'duh' comment but for films that rely on tension building and suspense, especially films in the found footage sub genre, it can be like shooting yourself in the foot before even getting out of the starting gate. As a result, the film feels a little rushed in getting to its point. And I was left with really wanting to know more of the backstory. Like how dire the situation of the rest of the family was which prompted them to leave and send daddy on a ghost hunting expedition in his own house. But understanding how and why shorts (sometimes) get made, I think there is enough here to make it a success and hopefully a feature length film is developed.

Overall, the film is wonderfully shot and acted and the twist ending was masterfully pulled off by filmmaker Todd Miro. It's definitely worth your time if you get a chance to see it.

Speaking of which, the film will be screening at the Chicago Horror Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 26th.

For more information about Enter the Dark, check out the film's website:

Cortez the Killer

Enter The Dark Trailer from Todd Miro on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Piranha 3D (2010)

Fear 1/5
Gore 5/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 1/5
T&A Factor 5/5

Over the top. Blood, boobs and gore galore. The amp is turned to 11. Piranha 3D is the most fun I've had at the theater this year (so far).

Not taking the same goverment experiment route of its 1978 predecessor but still giving more than a passing wink wink to Jaws, Piranha centers on a lakeside town during its annual spring break sleazefest. The towns sheriff (played by the still ever so hot Elizabeth Shue) along with her partner (Ving Rhames who should have gotten way more screen time) tries to keep things in control and yahoo douchenozzles from driving drunk in public. What she's not prepared for is a seismic shift in the lake which causes the earth to break and giveway to an underground lair where a breeding ground of prehistoric piranhas reside. Gadzooks!

Pulling into town, is the proprietor of a Girls Gone Wild-ish website played to new highest of douchetastic-ness by Mr. My Secret Identity. Everytime I see him, I think about that show and his magical spray cans. He convinces the teenage son of the sheriff to take him out on the lake to find primo spots to film his slutty gals he's brought aboard and get other shots of boobage. Of course, their plans are dampered by the little minions of munching mackarel on crack.

After capturing some footage, they attempt to get back to a wet t-shirt party thats going down, but their boat gets stuck in some rocks. As they work on getting themselves out, the lake party goers and the contestants come under attack from our swarming fish. What occurs next is an epically awesome gore bath, so over the top and fantastical you just have to see it to believe it. A classic scene that will go down in infamy as one of the best in horror history. Mad kudos to Greg Nicotero and crew for creating some jaw dropping practical effects.

As the boat tries to get out, it too comes under fire. From the moment O'Connell comes on screen, you hate him. It intensifies the more he drinks and becomes one bastardly over the top a-hole. So you know he's gonna get waxed in extraordinary fashion and boy does he ever complete with a genitalia extraction service provided free of charge by our mean little fishies.

In between all of this and leading up to the finale, is an overabundance of boobage and other nasty and over the top kills (topless parasailing anyone?). And it contains some pretty cool cameos including one by Christopher Lloyd. Great Scott!!

Overall, check your IQ at the door and prepare to have a rollicking blast. Piranha 3D was a hoot and a film I'll celebrate with friends for years to come. Along with a nice 12 pack.

Cortez the Killer

Friday, August 20, 2010

Women In Horror Week

It's Women In Horror Week over at The Bloodsprayer. Check out some fantastical posts by the writers including today's contribution from yours truly. I know, I know. I'm a little late with the announcement but a) I just got consistent internet access after waiting for almost two weeks for the yahoos over at AT&T U-Verse to get their shiz together and b) It will make for a good Saturday morning read with your cup o' joe.

Cortez the Killer

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Right At Your Door (2006)

Fear 4/5
Gore 0/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 0/5

Right At Your Door is a taut apocalyptic thriller, one that brings a strong sense of realism through the panic and uncertainty which it portrays. In the end, its one of the best of its kind. And there are no happy endings here folks. Only gut wrenching heartbreak.

The film starts off with a husband and wife readying to start their workdays. She heads out the door to embark on her day but not before complaining about a cellphone which was left out the night before and has lost its charge. The husband continues to get ready. He's soon stopped dead in his tracks when a message is relayed over the radio of explosives being set off in downtown Los Angeles. Looking out his window, he sees a plume of smoke as the radio broadcaster starts churning out what little information he does have along with conveying the panic which has quickly enveloped the city.

Unable to reach his wife via her cellphone, the husband hops into his SUV and heads out in search of her. He doesn't get very far as he gets a flat tire and pulls into the local hardware store. Another announcement comes over the radio, stating that the bombs which were set off were highly chemical in nature and that folks should remain in their home and board off all doors and crevices which could expose you to the poisoned air.

Getting the necessary supplies, he heads back home as people are blocked off from getting any further than the end of the suburban neighborhood and police officers are already attempting to quarantine those believed to have inhaled the toxic ash. Once inside, he finds a neighbor's landscaper who's broken in and he begs him to let him stay. Hesitantly, he relents and then quickly, both men begin work on boarding up and sealing off the home.

As they sit and wait, tension mounts between the both of them as they each try to get a hold of their respective spouses. The phone lines are tied up and not much information over the radio is given other than hordes of panic stricken people are showing up at hospitals and police stations. This continual sense of fear and uncertainty is drilled effectively into the viewer's mind throughout the film.

The true test of both men comes when the homeowner's wife comes knocking on the front door and a gut wrenching decision must be made. After much argument, the man decides to keep his beloved wife outside. Their tense exchanges reveal past wounds in the relationship and that maybe something else going on which leads us to believe that this is anything but the happy couple that they present themselves to be. Overall, the film poses to us some questions: in a world of uncertainty and fear, what would you do in the interest of self-preservation? Help the one you love and take a chance that something might happen to you or leave them to suffer, both actions coming without a promise of help or rescue?

The film ends in an even more heartbreaking fashion which I won't reveal. Other than to say the husband's sensible strategy (I say sensible because most people in his position would do the exact same thing) for keeping everyone alive turns out to be the worst.

Right At Your Door should really get more attention and notoriety than it has. Many films have the same set-up and even execution but don't convey nowhere near half of the emotions that this film does. If you are a fan of these types of films, with a compelling and bare bones approach to story telling, then this excellent thriller is right up your alley.

Cortez the Killer

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Undead Or Alive (2007)

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

I guess I should have known better. A film starring some guy from Desperate Housewives and a comedic actor whom I've NEVER found to be funny (Chris Kattan), should have been immediate fair warning and viewed as the main ingredients into a big, steamy, batch of shit stew. Reading various reviews online I thought, well, maybe it's not that bad. Afterall, I love horror films with a western tinge. But alas, they're all wrong.

The opening reveals that Geronimo or Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse (I forget which one) had once gotten into experimenting with the supernatural. So much so that he became all consummed by it which in turn, put a curse on the land. What curse exactly isn't known for sure but it turns people into zombies. Zoinks!

After the opening, elfish man (doesn't Kattan look like an elf?) and Desperate Housewives dude get into a scuffle at the local piano bar and are hauled off to jail by the sheriff. In the neighbouring cell, is a guy who turned zombie and killed his family. Kattan at this point goes all Kevin Costner a la Robin Hood and ditches his terrible southern accent. The sheriff steals Desperate Housewive dude's dinero which he had a hidin' in his boots and walks out of the station, leaving his deputy behind to watch the prisoners. The duo devise a plan to trick the deputy and escape and do so, but before he can get after them, the locked up zombie grabs and bites him.

So, not so funny actor and Desperate Housewives dude set out in search of the sheriff who's stolen his wad o' cash. Or some shit like that. Instead of finding him, they run into Pocahontas who takes them prisoner. Or some shit like that. OK, so I have to admit. This week has been reaaaaaaaally long. My wife and I closed on the sale of our old house and new house on the exact same day, not too mention moving, and overall, it was a really stressful process. At this point in the film, I think I was on my 4th glass of wine. Not too mention I was already bored with the galactically retarded and incredibly unfunny dialogue.

Pochontas along with Tweedle dee and Tweedle dum, start heading further out west after running into the sheriff and his henchmen who have all turned into half-zombies and they can still talk, run, and operate heavy artillery. They stop for a breather and elf man and Pocahontas get into an argument over whites and indians and subsequently, class warfare. Seriously. This bit of dialogue is drawn out for far too long but it didn't bother me as much because I was now drunk and had polished off an entire bottle of Promiscuous wine (good shit, BTW).

The sheriff and his henchmen eventually catch up to them and a standoff ensues at The Alamo. Or some shit like that.

Avoid this one. At all costs. Even whilst drunk. The End.

Cortez the Killer

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Slow Goings

Hey kids, just wanted to let you know that things might be a little quiet on this here interwebs blog this week. My wife and I are moving into our new Casa de Cortez tomorrow and I will be sans internet for a couple o' days.

In the meantime, may this video brighten your day and fill your ojos with tears of joy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Best Metal Moments In Horror History

Meet Martin. He's a total loser. When he's not getting pooped on by his manager at work, he daydreams of being a rock n' roll star. The only problem: he can't play guitar worth shit.

So what's the world's biggest uber dork going to do? Make a deal with the devil and a voodoo priestess of course. Enter a best metal moment in horror history when he comes face to face with his new persona. He meets the new 'him', who's sporting a dual guitar and two half naked chicks around each leg. Now that's fucking metal!

Martin then kicks out the lead singer of another band that is totally lame and incredibly homoerotic. Like a cross between Jim Morrison and Boy George. But his new found gig comes with a price: he's turned into a demon who's gotta feed on other people.

Check out Shock 'Em Dead if you've never seen it before. A ton o' fun. Oh, and the guitar solos (performed by Micheal Angelo Batio) are ludicrously over the top.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In Memorium (2005)

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

Many thanks to the fantastically awesome filmmaker and all around groovy person Elisabeth Fies for recommending this indie production. In Memorium is a film that is haunting, terrifying and ultimately, thought provoking. It's films like this that make it easier for me to defend the position of why I'm a horror fan. For me, the horror genre is the only one which can simultaneously make you scared, excited, terrified, disgusted, laugh, cry and think. What other genre can you practically run through the entire gamut of human emotions with? In Memorium pretty much touches on all the aforementioned feelings and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

From the start, we are viewing this story through the lens of a filmmaker as he and his girlfriend get settled into a home which they're renting for a couple of months. But this isn't a normal story of love and life he's decided to document. Rather he turns the camera on himself as he sits on the doorstep of his new residence and tells us the gut wrenching fate which awaits him. He's been diagnosed with terminal cancer, his only options for 'survival' being an amputation, chemo and maybe, a fifteen or so percent chance living after all of that. With his girlfriend by his side, he decides to instead document his choice, living out his remaining days and wiring the entire house with cameras and speakers to catch everything as it unfolds. He hopes it will serve as a living document of his life and the love that he shares with his girlfriend. What he actually captures is something entirely different.

After a night in which sounds of water churning through the houses piping is heard, the boyfriend replays video which was captured and notices a dark figure seated in a chair in the house's sitting room. It gets up and moves towards the camera, the camera cutting out when the figure draws near.

Startled by their finding, the couple try to make some sense of it. They come across a diary kept by the landlord of all of her tennants. Initally believing it to be the spirit of a woman who had fallen ill, their notion is dispelled when the landlord informs them that her former tenant is in fact still alive.

The boyfriend's kid brother has been visiting them frequently. The sickened brother admits to him the grief he carries over never being there for his substance abusing mother who died months prior to with cancer herself. The brother is shown the captured recording and right away, as he hears a subtle whisper emanating from the brother's computer speakers, he's instantly horrified at the very thought of who it could be.

In between all of this, the boyfriend and brother becomes increasingly more sickened, his symptoms not at all indicative of his own afflictions. The boyfriend and girlfriend repeatedly try to leave the house only to have the boyfriend become more violently ill. And it becomes apparent that whatever is in the house doesn't want them to leave. With the brother holing up with them in the house, we learn that it has plans for our trapped inhabitants.

The cinema verite style of film is handled expertly, bringing a genuine sense of realism. Of course, it also helps to have wonderful acting. Nothing felt forced or contrived. It always felt like real people having real experiences and interactions. On top of all that, when the intentions of the spirit are made known, it's pretty unnerving as it makes you ponder what it means to live and die. I'm still thinking about it today.

What filmmaker Amanda Gusack has achieved with this film is nothing short of remarkable. Cynics might say 'Oh great, another Paranormal Activity-type of film'. For one, the two are nothing alike other than the found footage angle. And the pure contemplative nature of it trumps any sort of lasting effect (other than maybe going to sleep with a night light on) the aforementioned film has. It's also important to note that it came out before. This film deserves every bit of notoriety as PA. And then some.

- The filmmaker is currently working on distribution. I'll post an update once it's finalized. Until then, check out the film's website for more info:

Cortez the Killer

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Crazies (2010)

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

This is a remake of George Romero's 1973 film of the same name. And to be upfront - I have not seen that film, though from reading the basic synopsis on Wikipedia I think I might. It also appears to be much different than the rewrite here.

For some reason I was expecting this to be kinda good. The marketing pumped this up to make it appear as though there would be buckets of gore and a lot of action - similar to the remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead which I loved. There is neither. Instead, it's a very simple survival story, similar to 28 Days Later or even Return of the Living Dead, except with bad acting, bad dialogue and a run time that feels longer than it is.

I don't really have a lot to say about this film. It was just boring and loaded with characters making poor decisions for the sake of creating 'excitement' in the story. You know what I mean: "Hey, why is that hanging chain swinging a little bit over in that very dark corner on a day where I have been fighting off crazy murderers all day? Guess I need to walk over and see." Dumb shit like that. It's a dud, the whole movie.

PS - it's about a small town in Iowa that becomes the accidental victim of a toxic disaster. The town is quickly quarantined and the toxins start turning people intp maniacal, bloodthirsty butchers. The sheriff and his deputy assume superpowers and fight them and the US Government off (more or less). There is a blonde girl who tends to slow the guys up. You get the idea.

Skip. Pass.

- Complaint Dept
A completely different take from Cortez the Killer: