Friday, April 29, 2011

Kiss The Abyss (2010)

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

Independent genre fare has never been better and Kiss the Abyss is a prime example of its continued greatness. One part coming of age and one part Frankenstein's monster, its a film that is more character study than pure horror. Well, at least until the end that is.

Our film starts off with a trio of men driving in a Rolls through the California desert. We aren't really given a 'why.' However, interspersed is a few scenes of one of the men, back home lying in bed with his wife. Slowly, we start to piece things together. After all, she's the only one missing from the car's passenger seating. Along with a distraught look from the young man, you start to think that something terrible has happened.

We come to find out through a continued series of flashbacks that these two young love birds lived next to another couple. The boyfriend was terribly abusive and their daily ritual of shouting matches unnerved our other young pair. On one particular day, he takes things too far and starts beating his girlfriend outside. Our next door neighbor kid takes it upon himself and acts the hero. But it doesn't come without its consequences. Our enraged drunken neighbor comes over that night with bat in hand but instead of taking revenge with the young man, he accidentally kills his wife.

Flash forward to our 3 men driving out to the desert, they arrive at a small house and are eventually greeted by a crass, cowboy-ish man who holds the cure for what ails them. As you could probably guess, the dead girlfriend is in tow and she's taken out of the back trunk and taken to the man's shed which doubles as his mad laboratory. Our man, who acts the part like a cross between Billy Bob Thornton and Dr. Frankenstein, is given a bag of money by her father and brother (the other two travelers being revealed as such). They are given a strict direction by our mad doctor of 'no return policies.' All oblige and he shoots her up with some sort of serum. She comes to and the small group leave to continue on with their lives. But they soon learn that they're getting a lot more than they've bargained for.

I won't go to much into the rest of the details of the film as I don't want to play the spoil. But as you can imagine, our revived wife becomes too much to handle in her newly 'transformed' state. And our dedicated husband with his undying love is left with a choice to make.

A refreshing film that delicately balances the relationships of all of our onscreen characters (without getting too cheesy) along with some really horrible happenings (one scene in particular is really brutal), Kiss the Abyss is continued proof positive that original film making and story telling isn't dead.

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

Cortez the Killer

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Insidious (2011)

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

For the first time in the history of this blog, I am writing a review and still contemplating a film and trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it. What I can say for sure is that Insidious is by far one of the most terrifying and nerve racking horror films released to a wider audience within the past 10 years. I guess my sticking point would be the end where it feels like it all begins to unravel a little bit. Enough of my babbling. Onwards ho!

We begin our film by being introduced to a young family who's in the midst of moving into their new home. A mother, father, two young boys and their infant sister comprise the whole of our seemingly normal family. The father leaves for work one day, leaving his wife to unpack and get things situated. Soon, books placed in a bookcase mysteriously find themselves on the floor and we are introduced to our first piece of evidence that something paranormal is afoot. Along with that, mom remarks to one of the sons (named Daulton) that daddy isn't one for pictures after he asks her to see some of his boyhood photos. A portend to what the future holds?

Things get more peculiar the next day when the mother hears muffled sounds via the baby's intercom. She begins to head up the stairs but before she can make it all the way up, she's greeted by a harsher sounding voice which yells out. That night, while the rest of the family is downstairs, Daulton decides to explore the attic. He climbs up a ladder and falls off after one of the rungs snaps. After landing hard and bumping his head, his nasty fall and recovery is interrupted by sounds that come from the corner of the attic. He then gazes upon something which makes him cry out in terror. Mom and dad rush upstairs and check him over, observing only a bit of a bump. They help him up and then ship him promptly off to bed. The wife recounts the event from earlier that day but that becomes the least of the family's worries.

The next morning, dad heads into Daulton's room to wake him up for school and finds him unresponsive but still alive. The family rushes him to the hospital and after a battery of tests, the doctors are completely baffled by his coma-like state. There are absolutely no signs of head trauma or hemorrhaging.

Fast forward 3 months later and we find the family dealing with the fact that they are providing in home care to their still comatose son. Our haunting continues with each act becoming increasingly more violent. After the imprint of a bloodied hand (which is obviously not quite human) is found on Daulton's bed sheet, the mother breaks down and requests a move from the home.

The family finds a new place to settle but almost immediately, they are greeted by more ghostly presences. Determined to find a cause while at the same time becoming very suspect, the mother-in-law invites her friend (played by the always fantastic Lin Shaye) over to the house as she 'specializes' in these sorts of things. A long with a duo of investigators, the film starts to take on a very Poltergeist-like quality. It's not long before the group comes face to face with the entities that are plaguing the house. And our medium comes face to face with the ghastly creature which seeks to take a hold of the little boy.

The medium gathers the folks and sets out to explain how and why this is happening. I won't go into too much detail here because it's a neat twist. It could have very easily devolved into complete and utter silliness but it doesn't and it's a refreshing take on the supernatural and how (potentially) worlds could collide. As the father accepts what's happened and is asked to 'bring him back', this is where things kind of lose its luster. He 'crosses' over and the treatment of these spirits in their world is remarkable as it isn't your typical transparent-looking type of spirits. The issue came for me with the revelation of this 'thing' that was after the boy and the use of CGI. It really took me out of the experience, especially in the finale when the creature chases after Daulton. Aside from that, the resolution to our film felt a bit hollow but I don't know why exactly.

Overall, Insidious is a pretty solid film. Kudos to James Wan and his take on a good ol' fashion haunted house story that also happens to challenge conventions. But goddammit, I'm struggling with that ending. For those of you that have seen it, what say yous?

Cortez the Killer

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Last Breath (2010)

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

Last Breath has an interesting concept inside of it's blackened little heart. One that I won't delve into too much because to do so would spoil the 'surprise' for those who may want to check it out. Overall, the film suffers from some very hard to ignore issues which unfortunately, detract from the effort made. These issues plague the film so much that it turns out to be less than the engaging experience that it should be.

Our film starts off by painting a picture of a family in turmoil. Mom snaps at her grade school son one morning after a cake she's made topples over in the kitchen because of him. Dad is met coldly by the wife as he sets off for work. While there, he meets the advances of an attractive coworker and she further paints the picture of a marriage that is steeped in issues and doubt. But the husband rebuffs her advances even though it's clear he's one step away from acting on impulse.

Later that day, the husband takes his wife out to the site of a new office space which he plans to use in the building of his own business. As he walks his wife through the space, giving her a grand tour, the sounds of his conversation with his hotly charged coworker can be heard pumping through the ventilation. As the wife flips out and tries to leave the building, a trench coated man makes himself known.

He incapacitates and rounds up our strained couple and for the remainder of our story, he puts them in various Saw-esque contraptions and tortures them. All the while, being very vague in his reasoning for why he's doing what he's doing. Our couple is brutally beaten, tortured and come within a few strikes of death. The husband eventually finds a way to briefly subdue his captor, frees his wife, and heads for the exit door. But the stranger comes to and chases them down, tackling the wife which brings the husband to contemplate whether or not he should leave his wife behind. He elects to stay which signals a feeling that maybe he wants to do so in more ways than one. He deals a death blow to the brutal captor and with his dying 'last breath', he reveals who he is and why he's brought them to this moment of self-realization.

The climax and ending should have had more punch than it did but it suffers from an overabundance of exposition which is displayed in a series of flashbacks. It's really overblown to the point where you get irritated by the fact that the filmmaker felt the need to really make sure the viewer connected the dots. Some people may appreciate something like this while watching a film. But for me, I prefer a lot more subtlety instead of a feeling of beating a dead horse. Halfway through this elongated series, I yelled 'GET ON WITH IT.' It really ruined the experience for me when a lot more could have been left to the imagination.

The soundtrack was also a particularly unnerving experience. During certain times, it felt like a Lifetime Movie of The Week. It really brought you out of the experience and added a level of silliness that just should not have been there. Have you ever been taken out of a film experience because of the soundtrack? Well that happened for me on more than one occasion with the film. Especially, the cringe inducing ending.

All in all, I can appreciate the attempt at something different and not something that's just torture porn for torture porn's sake (read: meaningless shock value). But in the end, the faults far outweigh any enjoyment that could be taken from the experience and the film's final moments just don't have the impact that it should.

Cortez the Killer

Monday, April 18, 2011

Scream 4 (2011)

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

This film had a lot going against it before it was even released. Re-shoots, re-writes, screenings and more tinkering....and Wes Craven's recent track record. But looming over all of that, one big question pierced through everything like one of Ghostface's lethal jabs: could a film series now over 10 years old be revived and more importantly, would anyone give a shit? Well, according to this past weekend's box office, it appears that very little do. Which is a damn shame because Scream 4 is a lot of fun and the perfect antidote to the constant stream of remakes and uninspired tripe that keeps getting rolled out en masse.

After a couple of false starts and the 'real' beginning to our film, we see Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell hasn't aged a bit!) back in Woodsboro, promoting a self-help book. Along with her 'in it for herself' publicist, they are quickly thrown into the mix as they learn that a twin killing took place the night before. After some artifacts are found in the back of her rental car which leads town Sheriff Dewey to believe that ol' Ghosty face is back, Sidney is advised to stay put. To complicate matters more, her teenage cousin and group of friends have been contacted by him and are believed to be his next targets.

So you pretty much know how this story plays from here on out: our kids (along with a handful of others) are stalked by Ghosty, tons of red herrings abound, and new 'rules' are established. Other reviewers state that they felt like they were pounded over the head with all of the social networking quips as well as commentaries on recent genre fare. For me, it was just right and I loved every one of 'em. This is a straight up middle finger to the current goings on that are taking place in our beloved genre.

Anyways, I won't go too much more into this as really, you need to see it as there are a lot of 'little' surprises before the grand finale. And it's a doozy. One you don't see coming. And it's absolutely brutal. In fact, this one is by far the most brutal and vicious in the series.

For the life of me, I don't understand all of the hate that's being spewed in its general direction by a lot of genre fans. Are we so cynical nowadays that we can't just sit back, relax and have a good time? I'm not saying Scream 4 isn't without faults (the soundtrack irritated me at times and the ending was REALLY drawn out). But for all of the incessant bitching, 10,000,000 blog posts spitting bile at remakes and PG-13 fare, why the hell are we not going out in droves in support of this? Wake up kids, get out, and go see this sucker.

Cortez the Killer

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Baby's Room -- AKA La Habitacion del Nino (2006)

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

The Baby's Room is part of a series of films that came out of Spain a couple of years back (6 Films to Keep You Awake). I've heard a lot about them but haven't checked any of them out. But now I can thanks to the magic of NetFlix instant watch. Booyah!

Our film begins with a young family moving into an old home (read: fixer upper). Much to the chagrin of a speculative mother in-law, the husband reassures her that the house is in fine working order and all that it needs is some good ol' fashion TLC. As they continue to unpack, they come across a baby monitor and decide to set it up in the nursery. That night, they start hearing muffled noises at first which then gives way to someone speaking to them on the other end. Freaking out, they rush to the infant's room but find nothing.

Thinking nothing of it, they go about the new day, on to work and back home again. But just as it occurred the night before, the conversationalist entity begins again and mom and dad seriously freak.

Determined to get a glimpse of this intruder, the father invests in a video baby monitor and sets it up. Sure enough, the father awakes that night and finds himself staring at the sight of a man who's hovering over the crib.

It's relayed to him and the wife by the locals that they didn't move to the best of neighborhoods so they think that it's a burglar who's looking to rob them. Onwards to another restless night and Daddy goes off the deep end as he hears the unwanted house guest heading downstairs. He grabs a kitchen knife and lunges at the figure from around a nearby corner. But instead of coming face to face with the man, he sees his wife and the blade misses her by only a few inches. Fearing for her life and the life of her child, she decides to leave.

The next day, by chance, the father readjusts the camera and as he does so, he begins to see through the camera a parallel world. There he sees the figure which exists in a time separate from his own but in the same place. The house, you see, was the site of something ghastly that happened years ago. But at who's hands do you ask? The startling conclusion was a great twist that you don't see coming. One of the most original haunted house flicks I've ever seen and certainly one of the best to have come out in recent years.

I do have one major gripe. Mainly, the soundtrack. Have you ever watched a film in which the soundtrack almost takes you out of the experience entirely? It's like the composer checked out the 'Horror Score for Dummies' book at the bookstore. It could have been more subtle but instead, it was really grating and much too over the top. Like every instance needed some sort of loud, crescendo to highlight a scene. Instead of relying on the tension and atmosphere (which was expertly built) to drive the film, the score was just pounded over your head.

But as it stands, it's a really original film that will creep you the hell out. That's hard to do with most haunted house films nowadays. I think that baby monitors and cameras should be employed more often as plot devices. It certainly added another level of freaky-ness.

Cortez the Killer

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Harpoon -- AKA Reykjavik: Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

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

A once mighty and proud whale hunting family has been reduced to scraping by after their Icelandic town switched industries due to the pressures of Green Peace activists. Instead of hunting the gigantic giants of the sea, they're now stuck with ugly tourists who've invaded their country for an experience of a lifetime: a chance to get closer to these creatures via whale watching excursions. But they're out to make them wish they hadn't made the trip.

Our film kicks off with a group of tourists loading onto and heading out in a whale watching vessel. They are comprised of a stereotypical mix: ditzy Americans, loud and rude Chinese, a drunken Irishman, and a gay black man. OK, maybe gay black man is not a stereotype. It's not long before they begin experiencing trouble with the boat and it stalls out in the middle of the ocean. To make matters worse, drunken Irish monkey man scales up one of the masts, accidentally dislodging a part of it and it falls towards the ship's deck, spearing the captain and killing him instantly. Whoopsie daisy. But fear not! Our trio of family members, an eldest son who looks like a hesher, his Slingblade brother, and their mother who's playing the Anne Ramsey role in Throw Momma from The Train, are here to save the day!

They load the group onto their boat and announce that they are the catch of the day. And pretty much from here on out the film follows our group as they try to escape the boat and are hunted down one by one by this psychotic family. Really, that's all there is to it. Some people make really dumb decisions and some people make smarter ones and in the end, the most resourceful one escapes. YAY!

But why oh why should I watch this you say? It's the kill scenes dummy! Of course, there's some harpoon action (I would have liked to have seen more) and the best use of a flare gun and subsequent eyehole melting scene ever committed to film. Has there ever even been one before? I dunno. Anyways, the film is fun, mindless and I don't think I understood half of the jokes. Oh those Icelanders, such a hoot. They do like to say bitch and cunt a lot though.

Harpoon brings really nothing new to the table but you could do a lot worse. After the endless barrage of shit I've seen recently, it was a welcome, mindless relief.

Cortez the Killer

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just Because.... can never have too much Rocktober Blood in your life. Inspired by my friend TL Bugg's post over at The Lightning Bug's Lair.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watch A Short For Free And Vote Please!

Todd Miro's Enter The Dark packs more atmosphere and suspense in its short run time than most of the longer versioned fare that's out there (full review here). And now you get a chance to check it out for FREE!

He's entered the film in an online film contest which could score him the opportunity to screen it at a film festival. And he would greatly appreciate your help. Simple instructions for how to register for the contest site and view the film can be found on his film's web page over yonder:

Check it out and vote for it. Won't you por favor?

Cortez the Killer

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

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

The retrosploitation train doesn't show any signs of slowing down. But I'll take more inspired efforts like this over limp attempts at remakes any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

At the onset of our film, we follow a dreg of society as he makes his way to his new 'home.' But when he arrives, we learn that all isn't peachy as his new place of residence is a city overrun by crooks and corruption. The ring leaders being a devious man named Drake and his two Ran Ban sporting douchebaggy sons. Our hobo doesn't want anything to do with them though despite their violent and very public executions. Instead, he yearns for something that reminds him of a different time: a used lawnmower which calls to him from behind the window of the local pawn shop.

But his world starts to get turned upside down when he comes to the aide of a hooker who's having a bad day. After he rescues her, our two douchey brothers try to teach him a lesson by carving him up with a knife. What really sets him off is his encounter with some thugs the next day while at the pawn shop. After another day of trying to scrape up the necessary change, his ogling session is cut short when the armed men come into the store looking to hold up the joint. Our hob grabs a shotgun hanging from a nearby wall and starts blasting away. He exits the store after dispensing the last of them, hilariously exclaiming how he hates guns.

It's balls to the wall shotgun wielding justice from here on out as he takes to the streets to clean them up. After ridding them of crooks and evil doers, he sets his sights on the mysterious man named Drake and his douchey sons. Just when his task becomes too much and it looks like he's about to fall, our streetwalking princess is there to pick up the slack, dispensing some vicious, lawnmower toting justice of her own!

Fun, over the top, with a lot of heart (the scene where Hauer's character talks to the girl about bears is particularly touching), Hobo with a Shotgun represents all that is right with the resurgence of this sub-genre. Instead of slapping on the grindhouse aesthetic and going through the motions, director Eisener's film has a soul of its own.

Cortez the Killer