2.28.2010

The Crazies (2010): Me likes it


A well-executed remake that feels different from the usual theatrical horror fare.

Of all the films to be remade, I thought George Romero’s The Crazies was actually a good choice. It’s a great story that just wasn’t executed all that well. The original feels completely dated, with 1973 stamped across its forehead in huge block letters. The budgetary constraints are also painfully obvious, as the whole military angle is skirted around not so delicately. Sorry Romero, I love ya’, but I’ve just never been a fan of the original film. So I couldn’t help but be excited for a remake of a good story, especially when I saw the trailers. Could 2010 bring what 1973 could not? Did it update the film in the right way? Was it a better execution of the same premise? Mostly, but not completely.

The plot has changed little almost four decades later. A small town is suddenly disturbed by residents who have gone crazy for no reason. In no time, the town is completely quarantined by the military, and a group of survivors struggle to escape. One of the major concerns The Crazies had was distinguishing itself from the zombie film. Almost Human EFX worked on the design of the infected people, trying to give them a clear look without turning them into zombies. I’d say they did a pretty good job, focusing on enlarged veins and discolored eyes. From a story perspective, the way in which the crazies act is also different. They are not mindless, flesh-eating fiends, but rather people that are simply “not right.” They possess reasoning, motives, and memory. The fact that they are not zombie-like, and that they are still human makes some of the film’s early scenes more disturbing. When farmer Bill is infected and attacks his wife and child, it’s pretty messed up.

One of the aspects I enjoyed the most is the cast of characters. The performances are actually quite strong, adding more meaning to the acts of violence. Timothy Olyphant, who I’ve always loved (yes, even in Hitman) is great at riding along the edge of humor and seriousness as the town Sheriff. His wife, played by Radha Mitchell, is flawless. Olyphant’s deputy also gets an MVP in my book. He always shows up to protect the Sheriff at just the right moment. Plus, he has some of the funniest lines in the movie. I genuinely liked and cared for the film’s protagonists, which doesn’t happen all that often. Plus, I appreciated the gender neutrality of the film. It’s rare that you get a horror film (or any newer film for that matter) where women are not showcased in revealing outfits or put in sexual situations. I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing, but it was a nice change of pace in The Crazies. There simply wasn’t time for that and the women were treated no differently from the men (both in terms of story and the way they were shot).

While The Crazies has a tight pace and some great moments, it did feel like there were some missing action scenes. Instead of showing how characters got from A to B, it would simply cut to them at B when there should have been some sort of struggle to get there. At times, it just feels a little too easy to get around town. However, when things go wrong, the film shines. The scene in which the women are tied to hospital gurneys and a crazed principal comes after them with a pitchfork is pretty intense. Another favorite moment comes when Olyphant gets a knife through the hand (I won’t say anything more), but it’s pretty freaking awesome.
Someone attuned to filmmaking can see budgetary constraints here and there, but they are not all that noticeable. The film is well shot, using shadows and darkness quite well. It’s also filled with gorgeous Iowa landscape shots. I appreciated the lack of CGI—oh my goodness there were real helicopters! Although there are some computer-generated images, it’s clear that the filmmakers tried to steer away from digital effects. Thank you Breck Eisner.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Crazies, even if it could have been scarier than it was. I certainly wasn’t disappointed and encourage you guys to catch a matinee if you can.

2.26.2010

Hop, Hop...Zombie Rabbit Award!




Geof from Enter the Man-Cave has kindly infected me with the Zombie Rabbit Award!!! I couldn't have been bitten by a nicer man from Philly. If you haven't entered the Man-Cave, then you're missing out. Geof posts on a wide variety of topics, from sports, TV, horror, video games, and has hilarious ongoing features like ripping apart spam mail and "Enter the Caption." 

And so now, I must infect others...at least I think that's what I'm supposed to do anyway. But like Geof said, I'm an undead Roger Rabbit, so following directions probably isn't my top priority. Here are some awesome blogs to check out...click on the links while you can because I just may turn them into my next bunny meal.


Note: Trying not to give the award to my friends who have already received it.

2.22.2010

Shutter Island (2010): Scorsese’s dreary version of a Shyamalan movie


My piece of advice for this film: don’t watch it if you’ve seen the trailer…wait, so about 80% of the population shouldn’t see it?

Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Martin Scorsese’s cinematographer + well-casted actors + suspense, mystery, and horror =? Well, I’m still trying to figure that one out. Shutter Island is a good-looking fellow that boasts outstanding performances, but a convoluted story in which the audience is always ten paces ahead of the movie is kind of tiresome.
"Listen Gandhi, I can kick your ass..."

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a Marshall investigating a disappearance at a federal penitentiary…for the criminally insane (cue dramatic chords here). The nut house is located on a remote island, which is only accessible by a ferry and only under the right weather conditions. As the investigation continues, things get stranger and stranger. Leo smells a cover-up and distrusts the doctors. Meanwhile, he is plagued by migraines, which are accompanied by flashbacks of his time as a soldier in WWII and visions of his dead wife. The tonality is one of surreal despair, established through minimalist sound and bleak visuals. Although the film was beautifully shot, Scorsese’s visual design seemed to be inconsistent, as he is caught between modernizing his films and maintaining period appeal.

The second and third act are quite dense. Conversation after conversation, vision upon vision, the film seems to repeat itself over and over again, revealing a needle of information in a haystack of scenes. Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, certainly could have tightened the pace. There is so much breathing room that tension disappears, boredom ensues, and you find yourself peeking at your watch. In fact, I’m confident that at least 20-30 minutes could have been cut from the film without losing anything important. In return, I believe it would have made the film more tense and would have not made it so easy to get ahead of the film.
"You jump first. I'm right behind ya."

I wasn’t expecting an all-out horror film with Shutter Island. However, there were plenty of moments that were intended to be scary, to be suspenseful, to be horrifying, etc. Yet, I’m not sure Scorsese ever successfully created those emotions. For instance, when DiCaprio must search for a prisoner in the dilapidated, dingy Ward C, it should have been terrifying. The power was out, allowing many prisoners to escape from their cells. With psychotic, violent people running around in the dark, Scorsese had a great opportunity to create some intense moments. Instead, the film is monotonous in its tonality, keeping that surreal despair running at a constant pace throughout. This led to feelings of detachment, instead of a strong emotional connection that should have been important, especially towards the end of the film.
Look into my eyes and tell me you didn't like Shutter Island.

Ultimately, the “twists” or “surprises” are the downfall of Shutter Island. Firstly, the trailers give away too much from the film. In fact, I was able to guess the ending before ever stepping foot in the theatre. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why I felt the movie failed on delivering suspense. It’s tough to watch a movie when you know exactly where it’s going, unless it’s exciting and tense in others ways (this was definitely not). Even if you don’t have it figured out from the trailer, most audience members were catching the drift as early as a half hour into the film. When the ending is obvious so early on, why did the film need to be 140 minutes long? When the big reveal comes, the film continues to go on and on Lord of the Rings style, explaining everything you’ve probably already picked up on. Sure, you get a couple details that you didn’t guess, but Shutter Island’s conclusion treats the audience like children.

In the end, did I enjoy Shutter Island? Kind of.  There are some good things to be said about the movie and a lot of people have enjoyed it. So, use your own judgment, spend your entertainment money wisely, and avoid the trailers.

2.17.2010

The Wolfman (2010): By George, I actually enjoyed it


While The Wolfman may not have had the heart I was looking for…it redeemed itself by ripping out a few of them.

Who would have known that a soulless Hollywood adaption of a classic Hollywood story would have turned out not be a total train wreck? There are a lot of reasons people weren’t excited about The Wolfman. Firstly, it is a remake. However, since it is the retelling of a timeless story that has been adapted countless times, I don’t think it makes much sense to complain about a remake. Secondly, computer-generated imagery is featured rather prominently after assurances that full practical makeup would be used. Lastly, it’s Hollywood. Horror fans are quick to scoff at big budget, studio creations and such scoffing is usually justified. But hey, it’s Universal—the purveyors of the Monster era, so they can do what they want. Despite all the reasons to frown upon The Wolfman, I though it did pretty well for itself. But don’t confuse me for saying it’s a good film, because well…it’s just not.

Did I fool you into thinking there was a Wolfman video game with this picture?

I mentioned that the film was soulless. That may be a tad bit of an exaggeration, but Joe Johnston’s direction is simply uninspired. The uneven style of cinematography, the random camera movement, the lack of an editorial pace, the static nature of the characters, and the overall absence of sincerity all add up to a film that could have been a hell of a lot better. The script—for the most part—was great, giving us clever dialogue in the vein of classic British theatre and a unique rendition of the familiar tale. I thoroughly enjoyed Benicio Del Toro and Hugo Weaving banter back and forth, as suspicions grow surrounding the savage deaths of local townsfolk. Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt are equally fantastic…that is until the performances unexplainably do a 180 degree turn for the worst around the 45 minute mark. With a good script, brilliant actors, and plenty of cash, how could The Wolfman not be amazing? Poor directorial choices…that’s how.

Everyone just thinks I'm acting senile...

Let’s talk about a point of great contention among horror fans: the CG. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, there are way too many scenes relying on an animated Wolfman jumping around buildings and galloping through London streets. Sure, the opening shot of a moon through cartoon trees has no excuse for existing. Sure, the transformation scene could have been done with practical effects. But at least the majority of the Wolfman’s onscreen presence is in full, practical makeup. The digital transformation actually looked pretty good and there were several transformation scenes, so practical effects may not have been so…umm...practical? While we’re on the subject of the Wolfman’s makeup and appearance, I can’t help but feel like the design was too similar to Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman. It would have been interesting to see a different take on the appearance, while still maintaining the overall part-man/part-wolf take of the original.  Oh well.

RAR! Wolfman scary!

You may think I’m being a little harsh with The Wolfman and you may be saying, “Well then why did you say you kinda’ liked it?” I’ll give you one reason: the Wolfman tearing people the F up! Seriously. I was surprised at how much gore was in the film—limbs flying to and fro, gruesome decapitations, claws through the chest, and much more. What’s not to love about that? Although The Wolfman was never scary and never meaningful, it delivered on the gags to keep me happy.

I went into the theatre expecting a total loss—a loss that turned into a win for fellow gore hounds like myself. You may not fall in love with The Wolfman, but you will be entertained.

2.14.2010

Happy Valentine's Day from The Horror Effect


Wishing everyone a glorious holiday--whether you're spending it alone in front of the TV watching Valentine-themed horror films or you're actually enjoying the presence of your significant other!


2.12.2010

LOL Catz - The Horror Effect Edition Part 2

Tales from the Darkside


Cat's Eye

The Legend of Hell House

Join the Alliance!

Carl from I Like Horror Movies came up with the brilliant idea of a place for all different types of horror bloggers to form a community: Horror Blogger Alliance. No hierarchies, no screening processes, no drama. Dozens of blogs have already joined the alliance, and each day several new blogs are being added. We’re working on some fun ideas for the horror blogger community, like a Fantasy Horror League or group film reviews. All ideas are welcomed and encouraged. So check it out and start contributing!

2.11.2010

We're Alive: Zombie Radio Drama


Do you long for the forgotten days of the radio drama? Do you miss the booming voice of a narrator telling you to "Tune in next week"? Do you like zombies?

Well, if you answered "yes" to these questions, then you should check out "We're Alive." It's a lot of fun and kind of addicting. All you zombie aficionados out there should love it. You can download the content to your iPod or stream it live (which is what I do because I'm not cool enough to own one of them iPod thingamajigs).

I have a longer review and interview with the director that was conducted for examiner.com, which you can check out here. The director is a personal friend and a great guy, as well as someone with a unique (and admirable) background that he brings to the characters.

Enjoy!

2.10.2010

Double Shorts: Two Reviews of Two Low-Budget Shorts

"The Puzzle": For Lovers of Twists

With a modern, Saw-style approach, “The Puzzle” is a fun little short with an ideal title. A lonely woman refuses to lend her shady son money and spends the rest of her evening working on a frustrating puzzle. Suspense is erected entirely through camera movements and editorial choices. You wouldn’t think that a robed woman working on a silly puzzle could provide any form of tension, but it does a remarkable job of doing that.

While I did appreciate the energetic camera, the cinematographer’s lighting choices were obviously limited based on the budget of 300 Euros and the time constraints of a single day. My other complaint is with the lead actress, who seemed to be over-the-top at moments, particularly for her first and only line of dialogue. From a screenwriting perspective, I also wish the initial setup with the son had taken a bit more time, because it was difficult to tell what had occurred without reading the synopsis. Perhaps if the son had been more persistent and called multiple times, leaving the mother fed up, it would have been easier to understand the exposition and easier to justify the mother’s angry response.

All in all, I had a good time with “The Puzzle,” especially since it is the perfect length for a short film that is itself a bit of a puzzle. Director David Melini seems ambitious and creative. Let’s hope he has more shorts stored for us in the future.

If you would like to watch “The Puzzle,” you may do so by clicking here.
  
"Contact": For Lynch Fans with a Heart

Shot in black and white and with a Lynchian tonality, you wouldn’t expect Jeremiah Kipp’s “Contact” to end the way that it does. The film opens to the sight of an older couple, setting a table with expectant glances and careful hands. Gentle camera movements and a surrealist foggy room set the stage for an eerie movie. The energy is quickly spun around, with retro zooms, canted angles, and a funky score, as the film shifts focus to a young couple experimenting with the seedy world of drugs.

Some bizarre characters, awkward visuals, and nonlinear editing leave “Contact” lingering on the edge of experimental film, but it never fully jumps into the Lynch zone of complete bewilderment (thankfully). Instead, we get a poignant story of the fragility of the innocent human brain, hinting at redemption beyond the temptation of psychotropic substances…at least that’s the tale I interpreted. Either way, the film clearly illustrates the alluring nature of drugs, while suggesting their potential destructiveness through superior performances by the leads.

Technically, the film stands up quite well when considering that it was shot for a meager $600. The cinematography is thoughtful, clever at times, but mostly simple, which is exactly what it needed to be. The bleakness of black and white was an excellent artistic choice, but it also serves a convenient purpose in providing aesthetic interest without expensive lighting setups. Most notably, the sound design served dual purposes as well. It acted as a suspense mechanism, as well as an insinuation of what is occurring inside the characters’ minds. The minimalist, unnatural sound design also saved time in post-production by reducing the amount of foley, ADR, and detailed sound work that probably needed to be done. Kudos to Kipp for making the most of a modest budget through his creative tools.

If you’d like to watch "Contact," you may do so by clicking here.

2.06.2010

Frozen (2010): Skiers and Boarders Beware

If I were skier or snowboarder, I would definitely be thinking twice before ascending the mountain on a chairlift after watching Frozen. This movie can make you laugh, cry, and cringe—all in about 90 minutes.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Adam Green and that I’ve been excited about Frozen for a while. Hatchet was better than sliced bread and Green's second outing, Spiral, was also impressive. Does Frozen live up to his other films? Did it meet expectations? I’ll take “Yes” for 300 Alex.

The stark, foreboding tone is established from the opening credits. The film’s title is shown across blackness in plain white letters that take up the entire screen. It’s followed by a small montage of gears, cable, and other mechanical operations of the chairlift. The harsh simplicity of the first couple minutes seized me.
I promise they don't look as much like Abercrombie models as they do in this picture.

Frozen continues to introduce us to Parker, Lynch, and Dan—three college students hitting the slopes to ignore the stress of school/work for a single day. Parker and Dan are dating, which makes Lynch, the longtime best friend, the third wheel. Green wisely spends quite a bit of time allowing us to get to know the characters before things go awry. The actors are good, the characters are likeable, and their dynamic trio is interesting without being ridden in drama. The circumstances are subtly built up throughout, weaved in and out of comedic dialogue. The fact that their cell phones are stashed in their lockers, or that Parker has a lone puppy in her apartment are plot points which are planted without force.
Just pondering the meaning of his existence...

The moment we’ve all been waiting for: when things go wrong. For the characters, it’s a slow realization that they are indeed stranded high in the air, with no one coming back to the ski resort for five days. The trailer privies us to some of the major threats they face: frostbite, starvation, hypothermia, falling, and wild animals. Unlike Hatchet, the horror of Frozen is grounded in realism. This makes it less fun, but all the more tense and gut-wrenching. I kept imaging myself in the character’s place: what would I do? Unlike most films, Green has most of the options covered. They literally try just about everything to survive. There’s nothing more frustrating than a movie where the audience is yelling at the dim-witted character to do this or that, and it never happens. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.
"Am I breaking out?"

 Taking a turn from the lightheartedness (if you can call it that) of Hatchet and picking up dramatic elements of Spiral, Frozen demonstrates Green’s directorial range with emotion. Some have called Frozen heartbreaking. And it’s true.  While tragic incidents occur, one particular moment almost had me in tears. Parker has a speech about her puppy, worrying that she will starve to death locked inside her apartment. The delivery, as Parker exudes a range of human emotions from fear, guilt, and sorrow, just gets to you. 
"So...uhh...yeah...this sucks."

Frozen had the key components to making a great movie: character and story. The technical elements, while not always perfect, fell into place well. It helped that everything was shot practically on location, meaning there is no computer generated imagery in the film. It’s so much easier to buy into the world of the film when everything you are seeing is real. Kudos to Green for rejecting the suggestion to shoot inside a warm, cozy studio. The acting and directing are top-notch, with just a couple rough patches in the beginning. The cinematography showed restraint, which was good. It was simple, yet effective. The camera never becomes too much of a character or a distraction from what is occurring with the characters. Plus, the film looked remarkably good considering the lack of source lighting options during the night scenes and considering the film’s budget. I have some issues with the score, or rather the implementation of the score in certain moments, as well as some editorial choices. The film has a tendency to cut too quickly and too often.  I’m assuming the filmmakers felt the need to show a variety of angles, thinking we would be bored with looking at the same people and location, but during the tense moments, no one was bored.
Now that's what I call location filmmaking.

I highly recommend Frozen to horror fans and non-horror fans. For the horror fan boys and girls, you’ll enjoy the cameos by Adam Green, Joe Lynch, and Kane Hodder. For the non-horror crowd, you’ll enjoy coming up with ways you would handle the dire situation differently. It’s a great film that deserves more screens and more publicity than it has received. If you live in an area that is playing Frozen, try your best to support independent horror this weekend! Head over to Airescope Pictures to see if it’s playing near you.

2.03.2010

BADASS: My Salute to the Black Men and Women of Horror



It’s February, also known as Black History Month. In celebration, I’m giving a big shout out to some of my personal favorites of the horror genre (as well as Blaxploitation, sci-fi, action) that also happen to be black. Check it out.
Tony Todd:
This dude is not only a mammoth in stature, but he has a voice that will hit you like a fist in the solar plexus.
Filmography of Note: Night of the Living Dead (Savini remake), Candyman, Final Destination, Hatchet
Fred Williamson:
The absolute KING of Blaxploitation. He is too cool for school and will kick your ass in two seconds.
Filmography of Note:  Black Caesar, Boss, Joshua, Vigilante, From Dusk Till Dawn
Pam Grier:
The definitive QUEEN of Blaxploitation. One hot momma who will take ya’ out if you cross her…no questions asked.
Filmography of Note: Coffy, Scream Blacula Scream, Foxy Brown, Escape from L.A., Jackie Brown, Bones
William Marshall:
A truly refined actor of African and Cherokee heritage.  His traditional theatrical style won’t stop him from ripping out your trachea.
Filmography of Note: Blacula, Scream Blacula Scream, Abby
Ken Foree:
A pure legend and an all-around kick-ass guy. He’s also into the restaurant business and I bet me makes a mean sandwich.
Filmography of Note: Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween (remake)
Miguel A. Nunez Jr.:
You may know him for his fast-talking punk characters. This guy seems to pop up everywhere.
Filmography of Note: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, The Return of the Living Dead, Leprechaun 4: In Space
Wesley Snipes:
Although he owes the IRS money, I bet he can kick their ass. He only makes the list for his half-vampire, half-human role.
Filmography of Note: Passenger 57, Demolition Man, Blade 1-3, The Art of War
Will Smith:
Although not a horror actor necessarily, he has been in a large share of genre films all together. Plus, he just seems like a cool person. Oh and he’s friends with Ken Foree.
Filmography of Note: Bad Boys, Men in Black, Independence Day, I am Legend


Other Memorable Appearances:



Carol Speed in Abby
Deon Richmond in Hatchet
Naomie Harris in
28 Days Later
Duane Jones as Ben in
Night of the Living Dead
Mekhi Phifer and Ving Rhames in
Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Jada Pinkett Smith in
Scream 2
Coach and Rochelle from
Left 4 Dead 2
Louis from
Left 4 Dead

2.02.2010

Let's Freeze The Country! AKA: Help Frozen Get a Full Release


As you may or may not be aware of, Adam Green's Frozen is headed to theatres this weekend. Unfortunately, it is only a limited release, but it still has quite a few screens in highly-populated regions. Be sure to see if a theatre near you is playing Frozen. Go to Ariescope Pictures for a list of the screenings. I also did a piece for examiner.com in anticipation of Frozen, highlighting the theatres in the Orange County (CA) area playing the movie. Check it out here.

Let's support Adam Green and push Frozen into a wide release! Woot!

2.01.2010

Cyber Scream Queen of the Day

Rhonny Reaper from the penny-pinching Dollar Bin Horror is highlighting female bloggers, or Cyber Scream Queens, to celebrate the "Women in Horror Month" of February. I'm thrilled be the first of those selected. Head on over and check it out by clicking on the nifty image below:

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