The Last Exorcism (2010): Really Damn Good

Spoiler Free Review! Maybe later, I'll post about the ending (I don't see what all the fuss is about; I liked it) after more people have had a chance to see it.

It’s been a while since I walked out of a theatre discussing how much I loved a character from a horror movie, or any movie for that matter. If there’s any fault to The Last Exorcism, it’s the uninteresting marketing campaign behind one of the most interesting subject matters to be analyzed in a horror film.  Comparisons to Paranormal Activity are inadequate. And comparisons to The Exorcist itself are just plain unfair. The Last Exorcism shouldn’t be compared to these movies because it is unique enough to stand on its own.
"Just, uh, take deep breaths...oh and ten Hail Mary's"

If only the movie had stuck with its original title, Cotton, then perhaps people would not have been as misguided going into the film. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have opened to over $20 million at the box office either. We all know the superficial plot: An evangelical minister, Cotton Marcus, brings along a documentary crew to film the final exorcism he will perform. Here’s what the film is really about:  Cotton Marcus, a jaded minister raised as an ardent evangelical, attempts to expose exorcism as a scam in order to protect easily-duped religious fanatics.  He eventually discovers that his last exorcism is not going to be as simple as past cases. The nuances of Cotton’s character make all the difference to the story of the film. Patrick Fabian’s performance is absolutely perfect, capturing every bit of my interest even during the slow, expository scenes.
Take a seat and wait until your number is called.
Your Exorcist will be with you shortly.

Some have complained that The Last Exorcism takes a while to get going. While this may be true, I found every piece of information/footage to be engaging. Director Daniel Stamm introduces us to evangelical showmanship, rural Louisiana culture, and the sheltered Sweetzer family. Speaking of the Sweetzers, the entire cast gives terrific performances. Ashley Bell, as the allegedly possessed Nell, will hopefully not be given the Linda Blair treatment for her great work here. What I enjoyed most about the characters, locations, and other exposition is how far away from Hollywood this film feels. A nice breath of swamp air for a change.

In terms of the found footage aspect of The Last Exorcism, the style didn’t have much of an effect on me. Films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity successfully used this technique to create atmospheric scares (and to lower their budgets), but The Last Exorcism primarily uses the technique to present a topic and its characters in a more interesting fashion. As I said before, the movie is really about Cotton Marcus. The mockumentary format works so well for capturing the story of his childhood, his father propelling him into ministry, his crisis of faith, and his motivations for uncovering a widespread scam. The cinematography is more professional and more choreographed than most found footage films (hey, it’s a pro documentary crew filming it after all). So we are still treated with establishing shots, a variety of angles, and EDITING! Thus, this movie doesn’t have the inevitable found footage bore aspect that TBWP and PA suffer from.
"There is a difference between a sixteen-year-old girl 
and sixteen-year-old psychopath."

In the end, is The Last Exorcism all that scary? Ehhhh, no. It’s got creepy moments and intense scenes here and there. However, scares aren’t what this film is all about anyway. Rather, it sheds some light on several disturbing realities: lack of education in extreme evangelic households, the dangers of said extremists, the disconnect between rural and mainstream society, science and medicine versus faith healing, and most importantly, one’s personal battle when caught between the modern world and a conservative upbringing.  

The scariest thing about The Last Exorcism is not knowing what to believe in the end. So check it out and see for yourself.


Hostel: Part II (2007): This Time With Estrogen

Since I waited four years to check out Hostel, I thought I’d give it at least three until I viewed the sequel. After I surprisingly enjoyed the original (review here), I was happy to see the second film, which I have been told is better than the first. After seeing the female version, I mostly agree with that assessment…mostly.  

"Am I drunk enough to be taken advantage of yet?"

Imagine the plot of the first Hostel with women playing the leads. What do you get? Less nudity, less dirt bags, and more high-pitched screaming. A group of young women (an overly promiscuous one, a nerdy sheltered one, and the middle-of the-road final girl one) are led to a Slovakian hostel by a gorgeous, manipulative woman only to be auctioned off for rich a-holes around the world. Since the setup is already known, Hostel: Part II is able to reveal more of the inner workings of the torture operation early on in the film. This time, we get to see a variety of anxious masochists drooling over fresh American blood in a hilarious montage of a bidding war. We are also privy to the story of two first-timers in the “hunting club.” The exchanges between the two men are sickly comedic, which is a tone that each Hostel film captures well.

Back to our party of pretties. The cast suit their roles perfectly; Lauren German, Bijou Phillips, and Heather Matarazzo are all believable, even if they don’t always have the best chemistry.  The build-up in this film is much more well-directed and well-paced than in the original. Drawing in what appeared to be The Wicker Man homages, the production value in the set pieces is also far improved. With over double the budget (but still at $10 mill), Eli Roth was able to show off more of his visual directing skills. The cinematography and production design look great. Particularly vivid is the scene over the opening credits, as the contents of an American girl’s wallet are burnt. The rollicking flames captured in long lenses are almost seductive. Throughout the runtime, I enjoyed this atmospheric take on a mildly sardonic human trafficking film.
Don't worry, this happens all the time in Slovakia.

However, my greatest issues with the film are in the unfortunately brief third act. Just when things get going, it’s over before you know it. While the first and second acts of the sequel were much more enjoyable for me, I found myself longing for the same intense struggles of the first film. Where are all the cringe-inducing moments? Where are the desperate attempts to escape? 

What made the first film so successful were obviously the gut-wrenching scenes of torture, but not necessarily just on-screen gore. In part, it was the threat of violence that was so disturbing—the taunting and teasing with macabre devices. *SPOILERS* The blood bath scene did a superb job of this, but it was the only time that the film really got my blood going. The sound of the blade scratching Lorna’s back was almost unbearable. When Whitney reached her demise, I expected to endure a similar feeling. Instead, she sort of fades away as soon as Beth is captured. While I could have used a more climactic final act, I did enjoy all of the plot’s offerings: the switch in behaviors of the two first-timers, and the way Beth manages to buy her way out of the situation. Just as the first film gave us an ending to cheer for, Roth again delivers a vengeful protagonist in the final moments. Let’s hope if they make a Hostel III, Beth doesn’t lose her head. *END SPOILERS*  
She cleans up well.

This may sound strange, but I’m really rooting for another Hostel film. Saw needs some healthy competition and we are all eager for original horror films in the cinemas. So why the hell not?


Piranha 3D (2010): There’s more to cheese than blood and boobs

I had high hopes going into Alexandre Aja’s remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws parody. This is not to mean that I expected a great film from Aja that rivaled High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake. This meant that I wanted a film that delivered the goods, which this film does, but I also wanted a film that delivered the goods with style, wit, and just a tincy wincy bit of substance, which the film does not.
Don't let the CGI fish fool you, there is real gore in this film.

Here’s the good news: Piranha 3D is full of the major crowd-pleasing requirements. Regardless of any of its many faults, it’s still fun to watch. The first half of the film is relatively free of gore, but maintains interest with oodles of nudity. A Girls-Gone-Wild-style shoot is one of the primary settings…so you can imagine the sheer amount of skin this movie brings to the table. When the second half starts, the boobs tuck away (well, not quite) and blood pours out. KNB’s work is outstanding. The EFX gurus went to town and simply had fun with the macabre piranha-induced massacre. Horrific bites, floating limbs, boat prop mishaps, and more render Piranha 3D one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen in mainstream theatres. Luckily the MPAA must have had a sense of humor too, because it’s difficult to imagine this type of carnage obtaining an R rating. The gory chaos of man-eating fish attacking drunken bros and hoes is worth the price of admission alone.
Eli Roth cameo for horror nerd points.

But…it’s still not all there. The filmmakers try to hit some of the right notes, but completely neglect the rest of the keyboard. The movie gets points for opening to a scene of Richard Dreyfuss singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” And even more points for a lovely forced perspective shot on Elisabeth Shue. The minor Jaws references, however, are not enough.  Holistically, the film misses out on any real cleverness. Rather than an overall goofy tone, I would have liked to see more humor spread throughout the film…with jokes that were actually funny. Additionally, I would have liked to see better use of the set pieces in a variety of atmospheres. It feels like we are in the same couple of places for 90% of the film. With less wide angle shots of saucy partiers and less time spent on the quazi-porn shoot, we could have had more action packed into its 89 minute runtime.
Douchebags in Lake Havasu... I mean Lake Victoria

Aja’s presence really isn’t felt in this film. I know he’s a better director than this. Sure, it’s a silly movie to begin with, but there was plenty of opportunity to do things better. Piranha 3D could have gone the half-scary/half-silly route or it could have gone the all-out cheesefest route. Unfortunately, it does neither. It tries to be fun and intense, but only succeeds in the fun arena. It tries to make you care about the characters, but only makes you hate them.

I recommend Piranha 3D, but only because I know many horror fans will enjoy the 20 minutes of mayhem so much that they will forget about the downfalls…at least forget about them until they sit down to write a review for their blog. 


Mad Linkage! Slashers, Love, Money, and Badassness

Time to share some links with you all (some of which shamelessly promote myself, others are selfless acts of goodwill). So here we go.

Slasher Speak:
Head over to The Vault of Horror for the slasher installment of The Lucky 13, in which horror bloggers discuss some of their top picks in the sub-genre. What movie did I choose? I'll give you a hint: It's not Halloween. (Thanks to Christine Hadden for being quicker to the draw).

Love Stories:
A little while back Kristy Jett of Fright Rags fame brought us a blog-a-thon on love. Check out her blog, The Person You Benefit From Knowing and see my tale of sweet blood--I mean love.

Calling All Student Filmmakers:
Are you a student studying film in hopes of breaking into the horror genre? If so, the folks over at Star Costumes have a Horror Scholarship of $1,000 that they'd like to share with you!

Badass Blog:
I've been following Joe Lynch's (director of Wrong Turn 2) blog, Transmissions and Confessions From a Mad World, as he chronicles his journey on his latest epic: Knights of Badassdom. The shoot is coming to a close, but go ahead and check out the gory and goofy pics from set.


Wishing you a HAPPY Friday the 13th!

In celebration of the last fateful day when the 13th fell on a Friday, I prepared this post--images of "Oh shit" faces from the Friday the 13th series. Today, to wish you all a happy holiday, let's take a look at the faces of glee from the Friday films. That's right, faces of happiness for this unlucky day. How's that for irony? I told you I was clever, didn't I?

The happiest children's summer camp cook ever.

Happy campers...har har.

Even psychos deserve happiness.

Peaceful moment of bliss.

One of my favorite Final Girls...and she has a great smile.

Disabled, but not unable.

Witnessing skinny dipping teens for the first time.

Bad jokes. Good times.

The happy couple before very unhappy, painful deaths.

The robot...a better time? Maybe not.

Yay for boobies!

I'm pretty sure Jason is happy about how badass he looks right now.

Have a nice day!

She's not a nice person, but she sure is happy about it!

Is that smile I see? Yes, I think so!

"Why yes, I am very happy about being an HNIC."

Drinking and drugs and premarital sex...oh my!

Creepy cyborg smiles.

"My video will get 10,000 hits on You Tube before getting shut down."

Douchebags. Happy ones.


Shotgun Meme

Finally!!! I get to show off my love for the sometimes essential and sometimes gratuitous shotgun! A staple of the "too cool for school" genre, the shotgun is the weapon of choice for any badass. Aaron from The Death Rattle has just tagged me in a "meme" thingamajig. I still don't really know what a meme is, but it gives me an excuse to create a post full of badass images of shotguns in action. Apparently, the purpose of the meme was to put together screen grabs following a certain theme. Aaron's post had a screaming theme and it rocked. So check it out. After the wonderful succession of shotty action, you will find five other bloggers tagged.

5 other bloggers that I dare to be cooler than this post:
atomicfox from AtomicFox
Chris from Horror Dose
The Warfreak from Olympic Artichoke
Sarah from Scare Sarah