Monday, April 30, 2012

Apartment 143 -- AKA Emergo (2012)

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

I will always check out a new found footage/faux documentary film. It's my kryptonite. There are a lot of naysayers out there regarding this style of genre filmmaking but on the whole, the good ones that utilize this style are far more in number than the bad. And the initial trailer for this creeped me right the fuck out. Call me a sucker.

Apartment 143 wastes no time throwing us into the thick of things: a trio of paranormal investigators, a doctor, a tech lead, and a British accented woman (who I believe was there to give credence to it all), visit the home of a widowed man, his young son and teenage daughter. It's mere moments into their scoping of the place and setting up cameras throughout when things begin to bump and thump across floors and ceilings overhead.

Much isn't known at first about the family other than our widowed father had a sick wife and she died in a horrible accident which his daughter still blames him for. Oh yeah, and the young son claims to have seen dear ol' mum and states that she's followed them from their last place of residence. But why exactly they are being 'inconvenienced' and followed isn't known. However, as our investigative group digs in and things progress, the mystery of this presence makes itself known and we learn the much darker secret that this family is harboring.

Your scares are pretty standard fare here a la Paranormal Activity: loud noises are meant to rattle and jolt, objects slide across floors as grainy cameras capture it all. There is one really effective scene where a tripod is used to project rapid bursts of flashing light in succession. It's unnerving and terrifying and it'll make epileptics go haywire.

The doctor's theory makes the angle of the film much more different than your typical haunting or even caught on video exorcism. Something that lies in between. It's not really dear old mom. Well, I really don't want to ruin the surprise so I'll stop here.

What I will say, and what really drew my ire and completely took me out of the film, was the long drawn out conclusion that the doctor and father come to. The doc gets dad to finally spill the beans both on what really happened to his wife and basically, what a terrible person she was in real life. The problem with this is that it then leads into an overly drawn out diagnosis of what it is that is haunting this family. It gets incredibly bogged down in both science and psychosis that it'll make your head hurt. The doctor's initial theory should have been moved forward with and the story shouldn't have attempted to explain anything else.

As a result, the film gets crushed under the weight of its own aspirations. For the life of me, I can not figure out why modern genre filmmakers feel the need to completely spell out everything so the audience 'gets it' or why subtlety is eschewed in favor of a sledgehammer to the face. Don't they know that the horror of the unknown or relatively unexplained is far more terrifying and compelling? As it were, Apartment 143 really missed the boat. And that ending. Jesus, talk about a stereotypical ripoff.

Cortez the Killer

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Road (2011)

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

Not to be confused with the post-apocalyptic dramatic thriller starring Viggo Mortenson, The Road is a Filipino production that is short on scares and long on tedium. The film starts out with an interesting premise: a long ago abandoned road that is notorious for its history of gruesome murders reopens and becomes the epicenter for three teens who have gone missing. But slowly and painfully it devolves into a long, drawn out affair as we alternate between multiple time periods that attempt to shed light on its bloody past and then bring us back into the modern day.

Our story begins in the present as a still hopeful mother approaches a newly appointed police chief and begs him to take a look at the old unsolved case of her missing daughter and niece. They took a trip along the road and were never seen again. The police chief agrees despite some discouragement from his peers who decided to close the case after the investigative trail went cold.

That night, a young girl, her boyfriend, and cousin decide to take the family car out for a joyride. The boyfriend, being the headstrong, young and carefree teen that he is, decides to break through the barricade of this abandoned road which locals all agree is a guaranteed one way ticket to hell. Sure enough, things turn hairy quickly as a ghost car appears alongside them and many a specter appear in their path and force them off to the side. Injured, they try and take shelter in and abandoned house. Or is it?

The rest of the film focuses on two other time periods: one that involves the long missing family members of the woman at the beginning of our story who run into a teenage boy along the road and the other, his back story of how he grew up at the hands of an abusive mother. And he just so happens to be the main driving force behind the infamy of this storied road.

The problem with the film is that it spends way too long on the exposition of this character, focusing first on him being a cold, sadistic, teenage killer and then how he grew up in an abusive household . The abusive mother certainly was enough of an impetus for him to go completely out of his mind but his continued residence along the road and future killings doesn't feel real or justifiable (if that makes any sense). The overexposed history of this boy takes the mystery and true horror out of the film and completely zaps any and all momentum. And by the time the 'twist ' hits (which you see coming a mile away) you're just begging for the film to end. This 1 hr. and 50 min. borefest could have benefited from some serious editing.

This road is paved with minimal scares, uninteresting kills (think Saw-lite), and extreme boredom. 'Tis a shame. This one looked like it had a lot of potential.

Cortez the Killer

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Los Angeles Ripper (2011)

Fear 0/5
Gore 4/5
Entertainment 3/5
Creepiness 2/5

I hate LA. Loathe it with the fury of 1,000 suns. If an earthquake broke off that part of Cali and it sunk into the Pacific, I wouldn't give two shits. I was born and raised in San Diego (you can call me a snobbish prick, it's OK) and I hated visiting friends in The City of Filth. It's dirty, disgusting, and it reeks of false hope from the scores of people trying to 'make it big.' And its pretentious as fuck. So LA is the perfect setting for this film, a nasty little ode to grindhouse films.

Grahm is a serial killer and hater of prostitutes or maybe just loose women in general because his victims don't always seem to fit the same exact profile. He looks the part of a creeper, sporting dirty blonde hair, a pornstache, a wife beater and a pair of black leather driving gloves. And he hauls around town in an old van which he uses to first have his way with and then dispose of his victims.

Kristy is new to town, a country gal with hopes and dreams of making it big as a singer. She attends voice coaching classes on the regular and has to withstand some really non-talented types. Some hilarity ensues in one particular scene as the voice coach tries to give pointers on the fine art of death metal guttural growling. But Kristy also has to contend with her new home life as she has a loser for an aunt and a drug addicted whore of a cousin who is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble.

As you can imagine, the paths of our two wildly different people converge when they meet up at a party which Kristy's cousin drags her out to. Kristy is reluctant to party and Grahm point blank asks her to have sex with him after doing a line of coke off of the bar top. Classy.

From this point on the film becomes a little tedious and drawn out as Grahm bounces from victim to victim (the practical gore effects run from the decent to the really amateur) and Kristy attends her singing classes and deals with her nutty relatives. Some really hilarious points in between as Grahm frets about the $50 price tag associated with having anal sex with a prostitute. Later on, he proceeds to tell Kristy's friend (during a chance encounter at the beach) that surfing is nowhere near as hard as his favorite past time: boogie boarding. Actor Randy Tobin really has a great sense of comedic timing and these scenes play to great effect.

But by the time our film concludes and Kristy gets into even more trouble at the hands of her cousin and comes face to face with the monster that is Grahm, it has seriously lost momentum. And sadly, you're just wanting it to end by this point.

The Los Angeles Ripper is OK when it could have been great. Some really funny moments and some decent kills make it worth checking out. But it's not one I'd ever revisit again. 

Cortez the Killer

Friday, April 20, 2012

Teaser Trailer: Heretic

I receive quite a few requests to post either teaser or proper length trailers to the blog for up and coming films. Most of them are pretty bad but every once in awhile I get one that absolutely blows me away. Enter Heretic, a story about a priest who should have done more to save those whom he swore to protect. He becomes trapped in a house and the souls he promised to safeguard have now come back to haunt and terrorize him.

Check out the teaser trailer below and the link to the film's website for more information. I'll share more news about the film (including release date) as I receive it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

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

No doubt you've heard of this film by now. It's impossible not to have. Word of its greatness has invaded every form of media and has even had moments spoiled by 'respected' critics and publications (but that is neither here nor there). Word of the film and the unending praise its received has heightened anticipation and subsequently expectations. As we know, expectations can be a real bitch. So is it all that and a bag of chips? You bet your ass it is. Its a perfect piece of filmmaking and a reminder of why we love this genre of film so much: its not afraid to reinvent itself or turn well worn tropes on their collective heads.

However, this is a film that cannot be reviewed without giving major parts of the story away. It has to be experienced for yourself with little to no idea about the particulars beforehand. But a little bit of a setup is needed. A group of college age friends pack up their stuff and head out to a, duh, cabin in the woods that's apparently owned by one of their cousins. You have the jock, his athletic but more brainiac friend, his slutty girlfriend, her sweet and virginal gal pal, and rounding out the group is their goofy stoner bud. Tried and true (and well worn) tropes of the genre are played early and often.

And that's all I'll say about the plot itself. The way these tropes are played to the hilt but still leave enough room for you to care about the characters and not easily discard them as your typical fodder is nothing short of remarkable. The film does have a meta-ness about it but it's not as self-aware or in your face in the way that Scream is which is another kudos to the filmmakers. People say that it's impossible to top the brilliance of Scream and to that I say 'Go watch The Cabin in the Woods.' The references are there for sure but subtle and brilliant.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the film is that writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard aren't that big into horror. I watched an interview with Whedon a couple weeks back at South by Southwest and he admitted as such. But he gets horror and what makes it work and what doesn't. Funny to think that a film that is essentially a love letter was written and directed by two people that aren't huge fans of the genre.

The Cabin in the Woods is a genius piece of filmmaking. Its funny, its gory, its smart, and the concept will fry your noodle. How it plays out and ultimately ends is just brilliant. The last twenty minutes of the film had me grinning from ear to ear. This is one that will be talked about for years to come.

Go see it. Go see it NOW.

Editor's Note: After reading this recent interview with Drew Goddard at Ain't It Cool News, it appears that Goddard and Whedon are big genre fans after all. Maybe I misheard Whedon during the interview (which very well could be, my hearing isn't what it used to be). Regardless, this is genre filmmaking at its very best.

Cortez the Killer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Familiar Is Making The Festival Rounds!

The fantastic indie short film Familiar (review here), is now making its rounds on the festival circuit. I highly encourage you to check it out if you are attending one of the festivals mentioned below over the next couple of months. A brief synopsis and a special clip from the film can also be found below. If you're attending any of these festivals, you don't want to miss out on this fine slice of psychological horror!

Chicago Fear Fest: Apr 13th and 14th

Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 4th-6th

Dark Bridges Film Festival: May 3rd-6th

Fantaspoa International Film Festival


Through a series of tragic events a middle aged man grows to suspect the negative impulses plaguing his mind may not be his own.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Human Centipede 2 (2011)

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

I've avoided this one for awhile now for two reasons: 1. I wasn't all that thrilled with the first installment and 2. by most accounts, this was filmmaker Tom Six's middle finger to everyone who said he didn't go far enough in his initial feature and it's nothing more than shock for shock's sake. Curiosity is a bitch and as previously evidenced, I like the endurance test that some films present.While definitely shocking, it isn't just messed up for the sake of being so. There is an attempt here at style and more artistic elements are on display. But ultimately, like the first, it does absolutely nothing for me.

Meet Martin. He's the most physically repulsive character I've ever seen on film. I mean that literally. I can't remember the last time I had such a strong reaction to someone's physical appearance onscreen. Great casting choice and probably the biggest accomplishment I can pay to Six or whoever chose to cast him. Martin is a parking garage security guard who has a very unhealthy obsession with the first film. Yes kids, this is a film within a film. The story serves as a source of perverted pleasure as well as an instructional tool for Martin. From watching the film during work and grossly masturbating to it, to rewinding and rewinding again to watch particular scenes of interest, to putting together a scrapbook featuring step-by-step instructions on 'how-to', this is a man who has more than just an unusual fascination.

As you can imagine, it's only a matter of time before Martin's fantasy becomes reality. And that's just what happens as he incapacitates unsuspecting people walking back to their cars and takes them to a warehouse where he plans to construct his own incarnation of the notorious creature. Only this time he has bigger aspirations as he attempts to affix twelve unwilling subjects ass to mouth. The only problem? He has nowhere near the medical know-how that Dr. Heiter had which makes for some gruesome scenes as he awkwardly constructs this thing with everyday items such as duct tape and a staple gun.

In the midst of his work, we see Martin at home, interacting with his roommate: his emotionally abusive mother. She's mean, nasty, and degrading, but only a small piece of the puzzle that is Martin's horrific background. We get glimpses of more as flash backs fill in additional pieces and we hear his dad raping him as a young boy.

So the experiment continues on and it gets more and more gruesome (including a forced exchange of excrement between subjects). However, things begin to unravel when the chain starts to rip themselves apart at the seams. Martin is none too thrilled about this and deals with things in horrific fashion. As our film ends, we're left wondering: was it real or all just a dream? But quite frankly, I really don't care.

As mentioned there was more here than just shock value as Six displays some style albeit it's been done to death already. The black and white and stark imagery employed are reminiscent of Lynch. I know that's an easy cop out with a lot of critics but the feeling is unavoidable. But the main problem I had with the film, much like the first, is that there isn't a strong impetus behind Martin's actions. Yes there was an abusive mother and father but it was such a thinly painted motive that it felt hollow. There was a long gap in history (from early childhood to present day) not to mention zero dialogue from Martin to help us fill it in or make us understand how he was feeling. Maybe that was Six's intention (again, very Lynch-ian) but some internal monologue would have worked wonders.

Overall, the film isn't as bad as most would have you to believe. But just like the first there isn't enough here to justify repeat viewings. However, curiosity will most likely get the best of me again and I'll see part 3.

Cortez the Killer

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reimagining The End: Rosemary's Baby

I'm starting what I hope will be a semi-regular ongoing series on this here interwebs blog. I want to examine some of the more popular horror films and discuss what some feel are their weak or particularly bad endings. And in my examination, I will either propose more fitting ones or seek to explain why the ending already given to us is the only plausible one. Are you on board? This should be fun.

I want to begin by writing about a film considered by many genre fans to be a classic: Rosemary's Baby. Back when I was first getting into cinema, and my father was a considerable influence, he told me of the film and how its slow burn suspense and creeping paranoia is one of the greatest examples of minimalistic filmmaking. Even though he considered it a classic, he told me about one Mr. Ray Bradbury, popular science fiction novelist and man who had (or I guess has since he is still alive) a bone to pick with the film. More on Ray's passionate idea in a minute.

Just so that we have some proper context, a brief synopsis is needed. Rosemary and Guy are a young couple who move into an old gothic apartment building in Manhattan. Included free of charge is a dark and troublesome past that is associated with the building. Guy is a fledgling actor and Rosemary is his eager counterpart, wanting to please and support him in any way possible at the expense of her own happiness. Despite her severe loneliness (as Guy is gone for lengths at a time trying to find work), she tries to maintain a level of calm as she knows she needs to be understanding.

To combat her loneliness, Guy states that he wants to become a father and that they should try starting a family. Around the same time that this decision is made, the couple makes friends with an elderly pair in the complex. Rosemary becomes worrisome when the wife pulls Guy aside and insists on talking to him in private. Much more concerning and terrifying is a dream that Rosemary has in which a dark creature has his way with her. Is it all real or just some awful dream? Rosemary soon finds out that she's pregnant and her soon-to-be motherhood eventually becomes a source of angst and paranoia. Coupled with her husband's new found success and their neighbor's extreme interest in the unborn child, Rosemary becomes even more anxiety ridden. But ultimately, when the nefarious intentions of all who are involved are revealed, she instinctively takes up that which she thinks she is supposed to do.

While Polanski's story is clearly about the fears of impending childbirth (being knocked up by the man downstairs notwithstanding), I always found the end to be flawed. Why would Rosemary, after all of the betrayal committed by those around her, succumb to their desire and raise the baby per their wishes? Granted, motherly instincts took over but wouldn't a mother's protective instinct have won out even moreso?

Enter novelist Ray Bradbury and a particularly impassioned speech he gave at an adult education series that was sponsored by the Santa Barbara City College in 1982. He had viewed the film and was fine up until the ending. After discussing similar gripes, he goes on to tell how he would have ended the film in a much more compelling way. He states:

"My ending is, My God, if your child has been condemned by all of these terrible people, and your child is a child of Lucifer, you've got to save him; you've got to get him out of there. You hold off all of these people with a knife and grab your child and run to the nearest elevator and down into the streets of Manhattan. You search for refuge somewhere and come to a lightly falling rain-not too much lightening or too much thunder, let's keep it subtle.

And you come to a synagogue, or a Catholic cathedral, and run into any one of them and take your child up to the altar and hold your child up in the light and say, 'God, Lord God, take back your son!' 

And you've got an ending for your film. 

You pull the camera away, because Lucifer was the son of God, huh? Lucifer lived in heaven. Have you forgotten that? Because of a monstrous act of ego, he was cast down to the pits and flames and remained there for a billion years. So now we have an ending for a film where we have a chance to succor Lucifer and heal the wound between Heaven and Hell. They missed the boat!"* 

Bradbury's proposed ending is fascinating for a couple of reasons. The first being that Rosemary's natural  instincts as a protective mother take over. Despite her pretty docile and subservient behavior throughout most of the film, her single focus is that which most mothers have: I must protect my child no matter the cost. When intentions are revealed and the whole coven is over to celebrate the birth, instead of falling in-line like she had before, instincts kick in and it's off to the races to get her baby as far away as she can from these lunatics.

Secondly, the play on religion would be unlike any other that I've seen in film. It not only acknowledges that good and evil are both at play but it also brings about something which is almost never mentioned in horror: that God and Satan are cut from the same cloth. Usually, you'll see an exorcism or some other type of ceremony performed which will keep the horned one at bay. But how often do you see something where a holy place, which is supposed to allow for a direct line to God, being used as a link rather than an intermediary like a priest? And how incredibly powerful would that last line be? 'God, Lord God, take back your son!' Fade to black.

Every time I watch the film now, this 'new' ending overwrites what I saw onscreen. I can't help it. Not only does it make more sense given a woman's instinct to protect her child, it would have made for a much more exciting and compelling conclusion to the film. They missed the boat indeed.

*Source: Ray Bradbury Uncensored: The Unauthorized Biography by Gene Beley

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Corridor (2010)

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

This has long been a film I've wanted to sit down with and experience. Before I had the chance to view it, the film was purported to be a cabin in the woods story unlike any other. It certainly doesn't disappoint on that front. While it does contain a fair bit of familiarity (comparisons to Stephen King's Dreamcatcher are unavoidable), where it differs than most is in its highly cerebral and thought provoking nature. The Corridor is a mind bending and downright chilling affair that will weigh heavily on you for days.

The film tells the story of Tyler and his buddies, looking to escape the trappings of their every day life but more importantly, get away for a guys weekend as its has been some time since they've spent quality time together. There is a bond shared which is easily understood by anyone who has a similar set of friends that have a long history together. But as time goes, so do people, and it's obvious that bonds have frayed a bit. More troubling though is the recent history of Tyler. Just released from a mental hospital and under the influence of heavy medication, he hopes the time with the guys will help heal his wounded heart as he's also coping with the loss of his mother.

To commemorate her, Tyler takes her ashes to a point out in the woods, near a radio tower, and buries them nearby in the surrounding snow. Before he leaves the spot, he notices a peculiar wall, ethereal in nature, its construct is unknown but completely entrancing. Surely it can't be real and Tyler waves it off as a figment of his imagination. It has to be a side effect of his new medication.

Coming back to the cabin, he finds the guys in full swing guy mode: drinking, barbecuing, and goofing around. He's reluctant to tell them what he saw. After all, he was just released from the loony bin and he doesn't want to cause any undue stress on a group that's trying to reform bonds. But he can't help it and he mentions his experience. The boys have a look of initial concern but quickly work to ease his mind and get him to join them in their good time. As the night and our story progresses, we see that it's not just Tyler who has issues. Some have family issues, some have issues with their career and life's direction and another, his best friend, can't bring himself to mention how he's moving away from him.

Just when it looks like our boys weekend is just what the doctor ordered things take a turn for the weird as the rest of the group encounter the wall which has now grown in length and reach. Some of them even come into contact with Tyler's mother. Others experience weird sensations brought on by this other worldly structure. And in the creepiest scene in the film, a video tape is discovered of Tyler's mom before her death, talking strangely and then she turns her attention, looking straight at them. It would seem that this thing in the woods provides a means to elevate one's existence. And it's after them.

Things begin to spiral out of control as Tyler sees his friend's mental faculties completely crumble. They all begin to turn on each other and certain pieces of what happened to Tyler pre-mental hospital come to light. But nothing can prepare you for how the film ends and how realities clash to the point where new ones are created and others are left to crumble in their hollow existence.

The Corridor will shock and rattle you to the core. The film is anything but typical when it comes your standard genre fare and as mentioned, it will bounce off your brain for days. The last act of this film is absolutely brutal and shocking.

You can currently rent The Corridor via various VOD services including Apple TV and Amazon. If you like original, terrifying and thought provoking horror, you won't find much better.

Cortez the Killer