Friday, January 29, 2016

Trees – review

Trees is the 2000 movie that lovingly pays homage to Jaws with the tagline “Its bite is worse than its bark.” Instead of a killer shark though, a killer tree is on the loose threatening to ruin Memorial Day for a Vermont town. Many of the scenes and lines are almost directly from the movie Jaws with some occasional tree puns thrown in for good measure. The movie takes itself seriously, which might be the most fun aspect of the entire film. I have seen Jaws parodies and rip-offs before and this movie seems to be one of the only ones made with heart and love of the subject.

Forrest Ranger Mark Cody is investigating a body found in his campground that was apparently killed by a living tree. He wants to close the park during Memorial Day, which is a busy time for the tourist season. The Mayor refuses to close the park and this decision results in more deaths at the hand of the Great White Spruce. Mark Cody enlists the help of botanist Max Cooper and the Lumberjack Squint to kill the killer tree before it can continue to massacre the small camping town.

The acting is genuine. The cast plays it straight the entire time and considering the killer is a tree, they it should be commended. There are not a lot of scenes that are different than the original Jaws movie. There is a strange scene where the Squint character has a pancake eating contest with a local bar patron. I guess that was put in there because Lumberjacks stereotypically like pancakes. There is also a flashback story of Max Cooper remembering his kite being eaten by a tree as if he was Charlie Brown. It is as if people live in a universe where tree attacks are a normal thing and this common occurrence is only unique because the attacks are so brutal.

The major difference between Trees and Jaws is the choice of music. Jaws has a simple but iconic score. Trees also has a score which is simple but sounds much more like filler instead of a well thought out score. Instead of singing, “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” the heroes sing, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” It is a strange choice that the filmmakers made. It would have also been nice to see more of the killer tree. I am sure they did this because you did not see much of the shark in Jaws, however, most of what you actually experience of the tree is the green POV shot from its eyes.

There are extensive outtakes during the credits at the end of the film. This reveals the humor and good nature of the production. The work to make the movie similar is evident and really shows the skills of the filmmakers. The effects and the editing are quick and look like there was actual effort put into making the movie a strong parody. There are a few moments of blood and gore and they are pretty funny since it is like seeing a bucket of blood thrown through the branches of a pine tree.

If you are a fan of Jaws you will likely enjoy Trees. It is clearly a labor of love and must have had a loyal enough following to warrant a sequel, Trees II: The Root of All Evil. The movie has good humor and seems like it was made with the intention to praise their subject and not simply mock it. If you have not seen the original Jaws yet you should definitely see that movie first then see Trees so that you will be in on the jokes. It is an entertaining movie that had me smiling throughout most of the film. On paper it seems like an incredibly silly idea, but because of the charm of the actors and the skills of the filmmakers, this movie works and is worth checking out.

The Gate II: Trespassers – review

The Gate II: Trespassers is the 1990 sequel to the 1987 movie The Gate, which starred a young Stephen Dorff. This movie follows up with the best friend character, Terry, five years after the events of the first film. Much of the same thematic mood, makeup effects, and stop motion are used in this movie.  It is not as creepy as the original but it still a decent follow up that is worth watching.

After the events of the first film Glen and his family have moved away. Terry has many family problems and decides that the only way to fix things is to go back to the gate and summon the demonic powers.  While he is doing the ritual two bullies, John and Moe, arrive along with Liz, John’s girlfriend, played by Pamela Adlon (nee Segall). Pamela might be familiar for her working with Louis C.K. and her voice work as Bobby Hill in King of the Hill. They summon a demonic minion who ends up granting them wishes but it inevitably backfires.

The acting is all very on point. The material has a certain level of seriousness that is met well and handled well without scenery chewing or winking to the audience. The silly aspects of the script are handled well and played seriously which makes the movie a little creepier during the actual dramatic scenes. The characters are charismatic enough that you care about their success and hope that they can correct their mistakes. Pamela Adlon is particularly fun and she plays a teenage girl well.  Louis Tripp as Terry has a great look. There is something slightly sinister about his look but at the same time he is very vulnerable.

The stop motion creatures are very cool looking and the makeup is quite gross and well done. The demonic minion is creepy and shows a lot of skill and effort in animating the creature. Much like the original, The Gate II: Trespassers shows that there can be horror movies for teens that come to terms with issues like depression, alcoholism, bullies, and death in the family. These are heavy subjects and they are dealt with in a mature manner. This movie has a very upbeat ending like the original and perhaps it is for the best since so many horror films have to end on a down note.

I would have really liked to see more of the monster creatures that existed in the first film. In the last big scene a giant creature threatens the whole family. While you do see other types of demons it would have been interesting to see the scale go bigger no the threat level. The story sometimes has elements of Lovecraft with The Monkey’s Paw and parts of a campfire story on screen. The ending seems like it tries a little too hard to be a happy ending. Still, the ending does not mar an otherwise entertaining movie filled with fun performances and decent effects.

The Gate II: Trespassers is a good movie that is worth seeing if you enjoyed the first movie or if you are a horror fan in general. If you did not see the previous film then you might get lost in a few of the smaller details but this movie does not linger in those in order to make its own story. It would have been nice to see Glen and his family but this still works. I liked that Terry still had a life that was not all sunshine and roses and the temptation of the power behind the gate drew him back for a second taste. The Gate is a series that could probably be due for a remake. It is a fun, original, and creepy movie but I would not mind seeing someone else’s interpretation. It is an entertaining film that should be given a chance.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lullaby – review

Lullaby is a chore to watch. The characters are all terribly unlikeable people. The story is ludicrous and the unpleasant material in the movie is matched only by acting that is on par with DMV employees. The predictability of this plot becomes evident really soon into the film, which is disappointing.

John is a young man caring for a young girl and baby. While taking care of these kids at a nice suburban home, it becomes evident that John is not actually their parent. Their actual parents have been injured and are being kept in the basement. John has an insane fascination with the mother of this family and his history with her has led to him invading their home.

The beginning of the film prior to discovering John’s nature is very odd to watch. The acting is on par with imagining aliens coming to Earth and pretending to be casual humans in human skin and yet not being natural in any delivery. John seems bored then uncomfortable. The “twist” is predictable and while it is supposed to be disturbing it mostly comes off as cheap. I’ve seen more natural deliveries from C3P0 than some of the actors on screen.

The biggest movie plot hole is that the police have the house surrounded and John constantly walks around the windows. The police snipers or a semi-competent S.W.A.T. team would have ended this movie a long time ago. We would not have to deal with the terrible relationship drama of the married couple in the basement and the insanity of John. There are scenes where the baby that John is watching is crying and the baby is obviously very visibly upset. It makes the movie come off really unpleasant and I feel very disappointed that they made a baby sad for this movie. It simply is not worth it.

If there is a redeeming factor to Lullaby it is that there are scenes that are made to make you feel uncomfortable that are successful at their purpose. At one point a neighbor visits John while he is with the kids and she wanders into the house uninvited, stands incredibly close to John, and even eats some of his food. It is an invasive scene but the mood is achieved.

If they could re-write this movie I can think of a few items that would polish it up. For one thing, seeing the actual home invasion in a flashback would have worked. It would have added some tension to the movie. There is also a scene where the little girl has diabetes and passes out. While discussing the option of releasing the mother to give the girl her insulin the next scene just shows John giving the now conscious girl a glass of water. That disconnect really could have had a transition that made what occurred much more clear. Then, when it is revealed that John is violent it gets disturbing fast. When on the phone to police negotiators he basically says he will rape and gut the kids if the police do not turn back on the electricity. Now whether or not the character would actually do that is up for debate but it still makes the central character of the narrative pretty despicable to even seriously suggest that to the police.

Lullaby is not an entertaining movie. The characters are wildly unlikable and since the writing direction comes off more like a poor stage play than a film there is very little to keep a person interested. This is the sort of movie that might have worked back in the early 90s when twists in movies were all the rage and nobody had smartphones to contend with for the attention of the viewer. Also with so many better movies, even in the independent arena there are a lot of reasons to make sure that the product is decent. If you are looking for a movie about home invasions that have some brains I suggest Panic Room, When a Stranger Calls, or the most recent version of Mother’s Day.

The Carnage Collection – review

The Carnage Collection attempts to be an anthology of horror stories. Where it fails is that there is usually something that ties it all together in a coherent framework. While The Carnage Collection does have a framework, it is a flimsy one that does not have a worthy pay-off for the time spent watching the several lame stories that compose this anthology series.

The story begins with a cable salesman selling a new service to a young man. As he hooks up his new box the young man flips through the channels and the screen is what we are supposedly seeing. The stories consist of the following:
- A killer foul-mouth decorative Santa which kills two brothers.
- A POV shot story of a guy buying drugs. He takes some mysterious drug and hallucinates. The end.
- A lonely guy has sex with his VCR, which comes alive and kills him.
- Two guys go searching for weed and get a text to go to the cemetery where a robed figure gives them weed, which causes them to rot and die.
- A girl draws a picture of a creepy clown, which comes alive and kills the girl’s family and two random women in the woods.
- A suicidal man is saved from death constantly by a guardian angel that is actually the angel of death making sure he meets his appointed fate.
- A girl is chased in the woods by a masked killer who kidnaps and brutally tortures her. She then manages to grab his knife and kill her attacker before dying of her wounds.
- A girl with a lot of stuffed animals gets a plush sloth she names Rufio that she believes can talk. Then she proceeds to drug and rape a friend at the urging of the Rufio. She first rapes with a plastic doll, then with a knife. After the rape she kills herself.

All of these stories come together inevitably because the cable man is the devil and apparently he just wanted to kill an average guy by having him watch garbage. Most of these stories seem more like jokes with no punch line.

The acting is abysmal and the people involved seem to be reading off cue cards at times. The camera work is so amateur that it is often hard to tell what is actually happening on screen. It comes off more like someone got their home movie made in to a feature length film. Not that it really matters since the subject material seems to be made to display the bitter opinion the filmmakers have of the world.

The best anthology movies usually make each story something that could easily stand on its own. This movie has sections that are more like commercials in the middle of a fever dream. With eight stories and the framework it feels like the writer just tossed out ideas in a brainstorming session and they filmed it no matter what. The sex and rape scenes might not be realistic but the use of sex toys makes the scenes borderline pornographic at times. That level of exploitation just for shock value is just annoying and tacky.

If you are looking for really good horror anthology movies I recommend Trick ‘r Treat, Tales From the Darkside, and Creepshow. There are a few moments that are such as seeing the killer Santa stabbing a guy and realizing the decorative Santa has tape in his fists to hold items. These “so bad it is good” moments are okay at best, but, like a breath of fresh air at a Snoop Dog concert, it is a rare thing. An anthology movie should keep its central theme in mind and remember what it is trying to achieve with each story. The Carnage Collection are just ideas that are too underdeveloped for an actual plot with stories that are the equivalent of the aristocrats jokes.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

B.C. Butcher – review

B.C. Butcher is the kind of film that seems like it was fun to be on the set. That same fun is not felt in the overall production. The story is muddled, the effects are terrible, the script is childish, and the acting is groan-worthy. I can excuse a lot since the writer-director was a child herself when writing and directing this film. B.C. Butcher is a piece of clay in search of a sculptor. It will likely entertain a very select group of tastes.

Neandra, a cave woman and leader of her tribe gets jealous of a girl who was with her caveman, Rex, played by Kato Kaelin. Neandra sacrifices this girl on a tree and the B.C. Butcher, a monster that lives in the area, apparently finds the body and puts it upon himself to enact revenge upon the women that killed the girl. Can Neandra stop this monster?

The music in this movie is good. There is a punk/rockabilly vibe that is sort of reminiscent of a 1960s movie, which is stylized and cool. The script is mostly filled with pre-historical puns like an episode of The Flintstones. At times it is clever and at times it will make you roll your eyes.  There is a vibe that this would be the tribe that Bettie Page would be in when she was in her tribal garb.

The costumes are simply leopard print cloth torn to look like loincloths. The monster is so obviously a guy in a bad mask that he might as well have been a trick-or-treater that walked on the set. They use clearly anachronistic items like steak knives, sunglasses, and have metal piercings. The title character is also called B.C. Butcher. I find that perplexing as that means that cave people have knowledge of the difference between BC/AD and also have somehow figured out the profession of butcher. Normally, I do not try to nitpick that sort of thing to such a degree but when it takes me out the movie it should be brought up. Not that this movie seems to desire to keep its audience in the movie. For example: apropos of nothing there is a scene in which the director’s boyfriend, Rodney Bingenheimer, shows up in modern dress with a duck to introduce a band that plays.

B.C. Butcher is like watching a teenage girl’s home movie. You are impressed that they made something but you also feel a bit embarrassed for the people involved. The good thing is that the sound track is tolerable and the movie is short. It is campy and I suppose a person can enjoy it for that quality as well. The worst aspect is Kato Kalein. In an interview it stated that much of his dialogue was improvised. I am sure he is a nice guy, but his jokes simply do not land and he comes off like a kid trying so hard to make a group of adults laugh. His character could have almost been written out and the film would have been better for it.

B.C. Butcher unfortunately is just not entertaining enough to recommend to people. It feels like the results of a slumber party and too much sugar. There are so many better caveman movies out there. If you are looking for something serious go with Quest For Fire if you are looking for lighter fare I suggest One Million Years B.C. Director, Kansas Bowling is still very young and has a long career ahead of her. The movie is flawed but it looks like it was fun to make and I imagine that if you are a fan of cute girls in leopard print and movies that are so corny that they feel like they come right off the kernel, than this film might be right off your alley. It is a Troma production and with that comes a certain quality you need to be prepared to experience. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Anatomy of Monsters – review

The Anatomy of Monsters is thriller from 2014 and based in Seattle. There are few words that describe this movie as well as amateur. The script is charmless and the cinematography goes hand in hand with the sloppy editing.  There is very little to make anyone want to see a movie that is this poorly crafted.

Andrew intends to meet a girl in the bar with the intention of murdering her. He comes across Sarah, played by Tabitha Bastien. When they hit it off they go to a seedy hotel where she gets handcuffed and he wields a knife at her menacingly. At that time she reveals that she is a killer herself and he was a target for her. They then discuss what made them the killers that they are using flashbacks.

It feels like Tabitha Bastien is trying really hard with the material. She might be an okay actress if the project was not something awful. Unfortunately, the script, production and other actors do not do any favors for her and her performance falls flat. She is attempting to carry this movie and there is just not enough support to make anything she does memorable. Andrew is written as a sociopath and you would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to not notice that this is a guy who looks at women and wonders if he can wear her skin. There is nothing subtle about it.

The filter on the lens seems like it has the Photoshop burn tool covering the screen. Andrew’s knife is clearly not real and you would think that would be an easy prop to get for a film. The blood effects and Foley sounds are poorly done and do not convey any seriousness in their shoddy quality. Even the music does not do any favors for The Anatomy of Monsters; there is a near constant techno soundtrack and often the volume is so much that you need to struggle to hear the actors.

The script is awkward. The jokes do not land and the scenes are black holes of wit. For example, a little girl’s father has a problem with their family cats disappearing so he says: “I’m not taking out a second mortgage to restock our cat supply.” The script does not even agree with what is on screen. When someone says: “You are holding up traffic.” It helps to actually have there be traffic in the street. There is also a flashback within a flashback, which comes off as lazy screenwriting.

There is an homage to the movie Halloween that adds nothing to the plot. It is as if the writer felt that pop culture references would automatically equal humor. Characters that are supposed to be quirky and charming just come off as creepy and annoying. The makeup effects are all things that could be done by the local high school drama class and the action is lazily done in such a way that the only people that will be pleased by the results will be the actors that can now add “stage combat” to their resumes.

I cannot recommend this movie to anyone beyond the person looking for something in the “How did this get made?” category. It is not particularly well made nor does it seem to have a message of any sort. It is also not a funny movie in any sense of the word. The bizarre framework for the entire love story is truly unentertaining. The entire idea of a serial killer looking to make things work within their daily lives has been done better. Even charismatic killers exist in the forms of Dexter and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. If there was more time to re-write this script idea and re-edit this movie it may have been salvageable. This is the sort of movie that you might need a palate cleanser after so that you do not lose hope that there are better films out there.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Open Water- review

Open Water is a 2003 horror movie shot on a shoe-string budget about the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a vacationing couple that went scuba diving in 1998 in the Bahamas and were left out in open sea. The movie portrays what folks suppose happened to them using actors that are fairly unknown, with the exception of Steve Lemme of Broken Lizard that plays an uncredited diver. The camera filters used give the movie an incredibly cheap feel.

Daniel Kintner, played by Daniel Travis, and Susan Watkins, played by Blanchard Ryan, are a young couple that are having some relationship difficulties. They decide to go scuba diving together and join a group on a on an ocean boat. While on the boat a head count is taken and they mistakenly count 20 instead of the 18 that are there.  Daniel and Susan have been left behind in the ocean and the boat is nowhere to be found.

Open Water capitalizes on the uneasy feeling one might get swimming alone in the ocean. There is very little action and considering that the couple finds themselves attacked by both jellyfish and sharks, there is very little actually seen on screen. The sound quality is fairly poor and the film looks like a home video. Why the filmmakers decided upon this is a bit baffling. The dialogue is forgettable and there are not a lot of compelling reasons to captivate the viewer. The thing that this movie has going for it is that it has a creepy premise that is based on a terrible true story. The problem is that it is really not something that needed to be told in the length of a feature length film. This story could probably have a just been a half hour documentary that would have been more interesting.

The Netflix sleeve claimed that Open Water is a mix of Jaws and the Blair Witch Project.  I think that is a bit of a stretch. For one thing, the sharks are more like an unfortunate by-product of being the ocean where in Jaws the shark is the antagonist of the film. It is also not like The Blair Witch Project since the camera operator does not play a part directly in the film. The movie is creepy as an idea but fails to be scary. There are a lot more movies that are “based on a true story” that involve a lot more drama, are much more horrific, and have characters that are more developed.  If you are looking in the horror genre check into Wolf Creek or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and if you are looking into drama on the high seas look no further than The Perfect Storm

I’ll admit the ocean can be eerie.  When I imagine swimming in open water it gives me the sort of tingly fear that I’d feel if I were floating in space.  Except in the ocean, there could be giants living in the dark lurking and possibly hunting you.  For all the build up, the tragedy is somewhat underwhelming by the lack of character development and the shoddy quality of the film and sound. Is Open Water worth seeing?  Probably not, considering that there have been movies that have attempted what this film has done and succeeded. Open Water is the sort of movie that you watch and quickly forget because nothing stands out. Instead you might go into the ocean and if you swim in the open ocean you might feel a chill as you slowly recollect the basic plot of this movie. Open Water has become the campfire story that people will end up telling kids about traveling and what terrifying things can occur to a person when their guard is not kept up.

The Arrival – review

Before he became the punch line to his own set of jokes, Charlie Sheen was considered a serious actor. What better role for a man who acts insane in his daily life than one who acts like a paranoid radio astronomer.  The 1996 style of effects are very present in The Arrival. A handful of decent practical effects along with strange blurry CG effects that have not aged well.

Radio astronomer Zane Zaminsky, played by Charlie Sheen, has just discovered a radio signal from a star 14 light years from Earth. When he brings it up to his supervisors he is promptly let go for “budget cuts.” Zane then starts a one-man crusade against NASA to get his data from the signal to the public. Unfortunately there is a conspiracy afoot involving extraterrestrials with goals of terraforming the Earth for their needs. Zane must watch his step or his life and the lives of the people he tells about the signal are in danger.

Charlie Sheen is great in this movie.  He plays paranoid well and he has the charisma to pull off a roll as strange as this. You want him to succeed in his goals because he isn’t a cocky scientist but one that just wants to have the truth revealed. Just because the main character is likeable does not mean others are. For instance, for some reason there is a little urban kid written to follow Zane around named Kiki. He is annoying and honestly nobody outside of the movie Naked Lunch should be named Kiki. Zane also has a girlfriend named Char, played by Teri Polo, who should have been named Red Herring.

The story tends to move very slowly towards the conspiracy, giving occasional glimpses of what is behind everything.  It becomes a little silly once you find out what is behind everything and you realize that it creates massive holes in logic. For example: Why would aliens that have no qualms about destroying and killing things using their technology use several boxes of scorpions to murder a woman? If aliens could terraform a planet to fit their needs, why wouldn’t they find a planet without existing life so that the move would be easier?

The scorpion scene is at least filled with tension and is well shot. In a hotel room a woman is walking about, doing her nightly routine. We, as the audience, see that there are several scorpions in the room and she is narrowly stung several times. The entire time you are wondering when the killing sting will occur.  It is very much like the build up before a scene in a Final Destination movie. The memorable moments are very few and far between. Some characters you are introduced to only to have them die soon after so they cannot be developed.

The practical effects are fine and show a lot of skills to the filmmakers. Where it gets ridiculous are the CG effects, which look cartoonish and unbelievable and have not aged well.  The Arrival has the same sort of feel as an episode of The X-Files. The alien’s ultimate goal of using green house gases to warm the planet for terraforming purposes has an obvious environmental message but is, thankfully, not super preachy about the theme.

The Arrival is not scary. If that is what you are looking for then you are in the wrong ballpark. This movie is more along the lines of a sci-fi conspiracy thriller.  It is okay and might be worth seeing as a rental or if you have nothing better on television and it happens to play. The movie is a forgettable part of the alien hype that got lost in the shuffle when Independence Day came out the same year. If I want a movie with aliens, conspiracy, and paranoia I would recommend sticking to John Carpenter’s The Thing or They Live.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Legend of Wasco – Review

On paper The Legend of Wasco sounds like an awful idea for a movie. I’m not sure how anyone would be spooked by this movie unless they are terrified of clowns and copious amounts of balloons. This movie is a satire of horror movies yet the actors play their roles it as straight as they possibly can. The characters are interesting and the dialogue is fairly realistic given the situations. It comes down to the poor technical effects and clear lack of budget that hinder the film.

Tyler and Christy is a young engaged couple who are visited by Christy’s brother Byron. Byron and Tyler bond over beers and tell the legend of three murdering clowns that kidnapped the mayor’s daughter and raped her. After getting caught by the police they were given backwoods justice and killed, cursing the town upon their deaths. Tyler is a dancing clown for a car wash and Byron takes pictures for the Internet. The social media frenzy resurrects the fiendish killer clowns. As new bodies begin piling up it is now up to Christy, Tyler, and Byron to find a way to kill these clowns from Hell to stop them from killing more people.

For a horror movie the filmmakers seemed to pick an odd subject. Clowns to me, and to a lot of people, are simply not scary. On occasion, when the clowns are approaching some of their victims, a room will be filled with balloons as if that is supposed to be frightening. I think the movie is aware of this because at one time Byron says, “I’m just not scared yet. They are just balloons.” 

The characters are interesting and well developed. The dialogue between them seems authentic and fits the scenes appropriately. The acting is fair but nothing notable. I would imagine that these kids are the stars of their college improve team but they are a long ways away from becoming award winners of the big screen.

Where the movie falls flat is on a technical aspect. The sound has an echo in almost every room, which is very distracting. There is also the matter of the lighting- several scenes are too dark to see what is happening. Filmmakers need to know that if you are doing a scene in poor lighting you might as well have the lens cap on. Either way you can’t see anything.

The music is actually very fitting for the horror genre and sounds reminiscent of many of the John Carpenter films. There are some other scenes that seem to pay homage to other films ranging from Carnival of Souls to Back to the Future. The fight scenes and the action scenes are fairly lazy. The struggles of a girl about to die could be compared with a tired baby being hauled off to their crib. Another frustration is that kills occur off-screen and the violence is simply implied with a blood splatter.

Considering the homage scenes, some of the meta dialogue, and the use of things like a “knife forged in hell,” I cannot help but think that this is a tongue-in-cheek movie which does not take itself too seriously. With that mindset, this movie is quite enjoyable. The fact that the actors play it straight the entire time without making nods to the camera or mugging for forced laughs is commendable. If you are looking for a serious horror film this will certainly disappoint you.

As a satire on the horror genre it might be considered fairly clever. It takes three people with real “adult” problems and places them in a situation that is ridiculous and laughable. The only people that will truly be chilled by this story though, will be those audience members that cannot handle clowns. It really is a shame that the technical problems make this movie worse then it actually is. If it had a bigger budget The Legend of Wasco could have been the 2015 version of Stitches.

Monday, January 4, 2016

They Found Hell – Review

When it comes to Syfy original movies you usually have to take them with a grain of salt. Syfy original movies mostly end up in the category of “so bad it’s good” but on some level the audience has to respect the fun these movies bring on such a low budget. They Found Hell has all the feel of a low budget film with a few better qualities, which make it amusing for the casual viewer.

Several generic college students are experimenting in teleportation technology. An accident occurs which opens a dimensional portal into hell and sucks the students inside. They must face the monsters and demons of hell in an attempt to escape while their friend and professor attempt to get them back to Earth.

The makeup effects in this movie are colorful and imaginative. It is as if the producers at Syfy recruited the folks from the show Faceoff to make these hellish creatures. In addition there were also giant leech puppets that were very creepy looking and led to a very compelling and gory scene where some friends had to use an axe to remove the leeches from a companion’s stomach and then cauterize the wound. The sets have an eerie abandoned mood that makes it look as though they were filmed in the ghost town of Pripyat where the Chernobyl disaster occurred.

The acting is fair at best, ranging from high school drama student quality to the scenery chewing “I really need this to make rent.” The dialogue is clichéd and really obvious. As soon as the students get to Hell they find a sign with the Dante’s Inferno quote, “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here.” They also seem to be dabbling in mad science, which is unknown to their own professor since upon finding what they did he says “The fools. What have they done?” The students do not even keep the guise of scientists for long after entering hell and fall quickly into the roles of horror film idiots. They are not curious about their situation and they make wild assumptions.

The CG creatures are not all that great. There are winged beasts and a couple of creatures that look like they were inspired from Lovecraft’s Deep Ones. Then there are the CG dogs and plants. I am not sure why they felt the need to make CG dogs when it would have probably been cheaper to use several trained dogs for the stunt and they would look less cartoonish. The same could be said for the moving plants. Considering that The Evil Dead had a plant attack back in 1981 it says a lot that people feel the need to use computers now to animate that sort of effect.

They Found Hell does not have a terrible story. It is more like a good idea that was weakened in development. If it had a larger budget or even a few script re-writes, this movie could have been something like As Above So Below. As it is, it mostly comes off as a showcase for some neat makeup effects in a creepy situation. It would have helped a lot if the writers spent a little time on character development. I found the college students to be basically characters without personality other than what they look like. When a movie does not care to differentiate between the characters in a horror film then they basically just become meat for the grinder.

If this movie was playing on television and there was nothing to watch, I would watch it. It does a fine job of being creepy using atmosphere and not relying solely on jump scares like so many modern films do these days. While certainly not Oscar-worthy, it will at least entertain and if you are into horror makeup or elaborate horror costumes you should give it try. At the very least it will kill some time if you are looking for something that is a bit different with elements of As Above So Below.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hell and Back – Review

Just when you thought the worst thing that Freestyle Releasing put out was God’s Not Dead, along came a fancy new contender, Hell and Back. Had I been in middle school or possibly high on drugs, this might have been a humorous movie. Sadly, the tone of the humor was lost on me and I did not feel anything more than relief at seeing the credits roll.  It is a damn shame since it involves a lot of talented individuals and the animation is lively. On paper this sounds like an entertaining project but on screen it is devoid of fun and feels like a joyless slog.

Three foul-mouthed friends, Curt, Augie, and Remy work at a failing carnival. Curt makes a blood oath with Satan and because he does not take it seriously it is broken minutes later, leaving Curt to suffer the consequences. Curt is sucked into a vortex into hell and it is up to Augie and Remy to get Curt back from the denizens of Hell. With the help of a sexy half-breed demon and a Greek hero, Augie and Remy attempt to thwart the devil and return back on Earth.

The animation is pretty solid. It should always be commendable when movies take the time to put in the work for stop motion. The voice talents are tremendous and it is as though someone picked up a Hollywood phonebook and found every comedian possible to cast in this movie for even the most trivial of parts. Unfortunately, these factors do not make a good movie.

The story is fairly predictable and offers nothing new to the viewer. The jokes are stale and would only amuse a middle school student or an immature personality. Normally I find humor in the right sex joke, fat joke, and rape joke, but these were so generic and cliché that they missed the mark. The characters are all very unlikable and do not do anything beyond their stereotypes for the sake of development. For example: Augie is the one-dimensional fat character. That is all he is and all he is known for. Most of his gags are about his weight and at no point does his character grow or learn how to cope with his issues. He is simply the fat guy and that is all he will remain. Remy on the other hand is just an unlikeable jerk that hates everyone and treats his friends like crap. He learns nothing and is rewarded for his stupidity.

Considering that the minds behind Robot Chicken are involved with this I really had higher expectations. The jokes on that show are relevant to many pop culture scenarios, which could be considered funny. Hell and Back just says as many swear words as possible in the hopes that it will shock a laugh out of you. Often resulting in silent failure. The jokes do not allow for build up and pay off but rather to throw as much fast-pitch stupidity as possible at the audience to see what sticks.

I cannot recommend this movie for a rental. The subject material is too infantile for adults and too adult for kids. Why would they add sentient trees that rape people? The only reason I can figure is that someone thought that it was a bizarre way to be edgy. That could have been a perfect time for an Evil Dead joke, instead the joke implies that the guy is asking to be raped because he was dressed “like a bush.” If the failed jokes in this movie saved lives, there would be no need for hospitals. It is not a fun movie and it certainly is not funny enough to spend time on. Save your money and save your time not watching this heartless drivel. If you want a stop motion movie with some brains and heart I recommend the 2009 Mary and Max. It might not be the trip into hell you were expecting but at least it is worth your time.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Hateful Eight – Review

As a Quentin Tarantino fan I went into this film with high expectations. Sadly, my expectations were not met and I feel like this is Tarantino’s weakest film to date. Written from a stage reading, The Hateful Eight is a “bottle movie” that has very little of Tarantino’s usual wit and charm and seems to rely solely on the same old character tropes of his previous films while at the same time attempting to shock the audience.

Sometime after the Civil War a group of eight strangers find themselves in a cabin during a blizzard. One of them is a bounty hunter, played by Kurt Russell, with a captive female criminal, Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. As they begin to reveal who one another are within the cabin they begin to find themselves mixed in a plot to free Daisy. Someone or some people are not who they say they are.

The Hateful Eight has artful shots of the wilderness and some great close-ups that truly make the film beautiful. The films has an amazing score that is incredibly well thought out and uses Ennio Morricone’s best abilities to capture the isolation and coldness of the scenes on screen. The look is gritty and the cold howls of the Wyoming wind on screen create chills in the audience.

The story itself is a fairly pedestrian whodunit. There are gaping holes in the logic and the anachronistic language can take a person right out of the film if not careful. The characters are all fairly unlikable save for Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins whose characters seem to have actual dimensions. The first half of the story has very little action but as soon as the second half occurs it is nearly all action and becomes little distracting.

Compared to other movies that have come out recently, this movie is certainly a renter. If you are fan of Tarantino’s earlier films you will be disappointed. When better dark Westerns such as Bone Tomahawk have come out recently then people have to bring their A-material to the table and not rely on the same stable of actors or gratuitous exploitation, like a black man forcing a white man to fellate him in the freezing cold. At what point do we ask Tarantino: “Is this all you have?” Certainly, he can do more than try to shock audiences with cheap tricks.