Movie Reviews 204 – I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

December 18, 2014

I Spit On Your GraveReaders may recall my review of the original I Spit On Your Grave, touted as both an exploitation film featuring a brutal rape scene, and at the same time a testament to woman power as the victim exacts revenge on the perpetrators. Aside from a cheesy 70’s low budget look and feel with some sub-par acting, it really is an empowering movie, and as I stated in that review, would be hard to top. Which is exactly what someone did.

My disdain for remakes has been lowered a notch as this revamp directed by Steven R. Monroe manages to retain all the positive elements of the original, but also improving and modernizing the story. With only the addition of one new, albeit major, character, I was initially concerned that it was too similar to the original having added little midway through the movie. A common curse of remakes. The only noticeable difference at that point was the improved acting in the form of our harrowed heroine Jennifer, this time played by Sarah Butler, and the introduction of the Sheriff (Andrew Howard) to the story.

But, the second half of the movie is where things go into overdrive. Modern day FX and makeup techniques raises the brutality leashed on the culprits to new millennium standards of gore. While Jennifer did plot her revenge after regaining her senses from the shock in the first film, there was not as much hate and bile, and no particularly extensive planning when it came to revenge. But this Jennifer is seething with rage and meticulously plans every step of her revenge. Her deadly retribution of each character are mostly inspired by their roles and specific actions they undertook during the rape. This is indeed a remake worthy of the effort.

The hardest question that probably comes to those who’ve not seen either of the versions is “Which one should I watch?” I still believe that the original merits viewing if only for the originality and bravery to having made the film in the first place. One must be ready for lower production values and other low budget forgiveness. If you prefer a slicker and updated production, go with the remake. I would still highly recommend watching both versions should the opportunity arise. If there had to be a choice between one or the other I think they are both equally deserving of viewing and regardless of which you watch, you will get an uncharacteristically harsh yet realistic perspective on rape, and a taste of justice being served the only way it can. Violently and bloody. Either way, be prepared.

Now that I’ve embraced the remake, I wonder how the other dreaded word in the cinemaphile dictionary, will play out. Yes, there is a “sequel” sitting on my shelves. This time I have high hopes as Monroe once again takes on directorial chores. But we’ll see about that when I get around to it.

Movie Reviews 203 – Infection (2004)

December 12, 2014

InfectionThere are quite a few horror stories set either entirely in or primarily around a hospital setting.The sterile environment makes an excellent backdrop and the medical facilities are conducive to ‘examining’ unnatural living matter, something that can easily be used as a plot element. While these factor in Infection, the main interest and tension doesn’t come from the bacterial agent at hand, but rather comes from the quirks and eccentricities of the doctors and nurses.

The setting is no regular hospital but one on it’s last legs financially and which seems abandoned by all but the remaining skeleton crew of medical personnel. There is the insecure, ‘slow’ nurse that doesn’t seem capable of mastering the use of needles on patients. The head doctor just trying to keep the hospital afloat despite the fact that the administration is no longer even accepting his calls. The head nurse counting down the dwindling supplies, but is still a stickler for rules and regulations. The doctor who is fretting over the fact that he hasn’t received his latest pay and is in arrears with his child support payments. And the ‘doctor’ accused of such ineptness that he can’t even be trusted to suture a simple wound. And you thought General Hospital had soap opera drama.

This ragtag team faces it’s first crisis upon the death of a mysterious fully bandaged patient due to a dosage misunderstanding between a doctor and nurse at the peak an emergency. With some reluctance, everyone present decide to quarantine the dead patient into a unused room for a given amount of time after which the dosage mix up should be undetectable.

Compounding the death is the spread of some new virus or bacteria that seems to be sweeping the area. An ambulance radio operator keeps requesting any hospital to accept their current patient, each subsequent plea elevating the urgency and describing an ever worsening and spreading black rash on the patient in the ambulance. The doctor at the hospital rejects accepting the ambulance but the ambulance defies the rejection and simply abandons the gurney with the patient in the receiving area. The gurney is empty by the time the staff realize they’ve been saddled with the patient, but when they do find him he’s a pussing medical marvel that one of the doctors sees as an opportunity to study and possibly gain fame and notoriety as discoverers of some new disease.

Two plot points then intersect as the new patient and dead one both transform into putrid green slime pus mounds. After that, it’s every doctor and nurse for themselves.

Kansen” (original Japan title) is definitely an example of character over substance. In this case the substance being the mystery goo. While there is plenty of ‘liquefaction” and other shocking imagery, it doesn’t go too far over the top and relies more on drama and storytelling to deliver a solid movie. Well solid until it all liquifies into a green, oozing, …

Movie Reviews 202 – Bad Boys (1983)

December 4, 2014

Bad Boys 1983I’m sure that the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when the movie title Bad Boys is brandished is the series of cop comedies with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Not to put down those movies but it is a shame because the definitive Bad Boys movie that everybody should be watching was made long before. It also cemented Sean Penn’s career as this acclaimed dramatic role came on the heels of his comedic role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Anyone that can steal the show back to back in such a diverse set of movies had to have the acting chops to achieve super stardom, which he continues today.

Rewatching Bad Boys today after so many years I was surprised to recognize the early talents of both Clancy Brown and Ally Sheedy, both making their first movie appearances here and already showing great promise of things to come themselves.

Ostensibly a ‘prison’ movie, what elevates Bad Boys from most other prison movies are the ties to the outside world. The story does not stop at showing us how the main characters ended up in the slammer, in this case really a juvenile detention center, but how the events on the outside continue to reverberate with those incarcerated.

Mick O’brien (Penn) is a petty thug and having learned that a fellow Latino student Paco (Esai Morales) and his gang are about to complete a drug deal, convinces his friend (Alan Ruck, Cameron from Ferris’s Bueller’s Day Off) to join him to hit the Latino’s for their cash horde on the way to the big deal. Just about everything goes wrong, and in the resulting melee Mick’s friend dies and Paco’s kid brother is run over by Mick fleeing cops in his car.

Mick is thrown into the grungy world of a detention center where rules are flouted, most guards are indifferent and there is a hierachy among the inmates. The highest spots in the pecking order are currently held by Viking (Brown) and his buddy Tweety who pick on Mick at every opportunity. Mick, with an ever present chip on his shoulder runs afoul of the kings, but he’s got company in that regard with Horowitz, his literate cellmate and electronic wiz repairman. Meanwhile Paco seething with revenge in his blood goes after Mick’s girl (Sheedy) only to find himself in the same pen with Mick due to overcrowding circumstances.

Mick is in a constant struggle with himself, trying to tame his instincts to defend himself and retaliate when confronted. His ticket out is to lay low and not cause trouble, but can he? The battle of wits determines superiority as much as the physical battles in the grand game of cat and mouse within the confines of the chain link fence, all masterfully delivered with great acting and plenty of action.

This is the real Bad Boys movie you should be watching. Watcha gonna do?

Movie Reviews 201 – April Fool’s Day (1986)

December 1, 2014

April Fools DayThe poster sporting a girl whose hair is braided into the shape of a hangman’s noose and hiding a knife behind her back as she raises a cheer to a group a teens has always peaked my interest. But at the same time I assumed April Fools’ Day was just another movie trying to cash in on the Horror-holiday-du-jour trend like Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas or even Mother’s Day. (Is nothing sacred?)

My fears seemed confirmed when the premise turned out to be a bunch of friends holed up in an island isolated mansion over the first of April weekend and the hijinks included every staple trick gimmick in the book from dribble glasses, exploding cigars and breakaway doorknobs. As silly as those scenes were there was a developing mystery surrounding bodies disappearing and resurfacing in various states of decomposition and other gory deaths.  It was still enjoyable until the point early in the movie where I groaned as I thought I had it all figured out. Too obvious, I said to myself. The clues were all laid out alright, and I bought them, hook, line and sinker. Little did I know that a surprise was in store for me, and a lesson in humility. Yeah, the filmmakers got me good.

The story twist is what raises April Fool’s Day above the abject silliness it resides in. It’s hard to explain without giving it all away so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that the twist transforms the nonsense into a finely crafted story interwoven like that artwork hair braid.

I can even see myself watching this again in the near future, so call it a minor classic. Being a blog, I realize that someone may be reading this on April Fool’s Day and they may surmise that I’m just pulling their leg and the movie really is the crap I originally said it was. But I wouldn’t do that, would I?

Movie Reviews 200 – Black Sabbath (1963)

November 23, 2014

Black SabbathCelebrating my 200th movie review, I thought it only fitting that I spotlight a special movie. So I chose 1963’s Black Sabbath from the patriarch of Italian Horror cinema, Mario Bava and featuring none other than Boris Karloff in his last hurrah before churning out mostly mediocre fare in his final years.

Not to be confused with the Heavy Metal band showcasing Ozzie Osbourne and his crew of misfit bangers who adopted the group name in homage to the english release, the original Italian version bore the title “I Tre Volti Della Paura” (which translates as “Three Faces of Fear”).

The movie is a three set anthology, a format not particularly unusual for horror movies at the time and a joint venture with Amicus films, who basically provided Karloff’s services to Galatea films in Italy. My DVD (from the Mario Bava Collection set) only had subtitles, so I’m not sure if a dubbed version is available, but don’t let that stop you. In fact hearing Boris speaking  Italian is almost worth it alone.

The  first piece is “The Telephone”, about a woman living alone and terrorized by a caller who seems to know her every move in her apartment. We soon deduce that a man she once helped imprison has just been released and she frantically calls one of her older friends with whom she had some sort of falling out years ago. The suspense grows as we learn the true nature of the events surrounding the characters, but even so, the ending comes as a surprise. The European flavour is most evident in this story with brazen sexuality from the very first scene featuring Michèle Mercier disrobing as she arrives home and then bordering on the taboo as the story progresses.

The centerpiece “The Wurdulak” is the story starring Karloff as the patriarch of a 19th Century Russian peasant family in a town who seems resigned to the fate of a local legendary vampire-like curse. As a noble visitor named Vladimir (Mark Damon)  takes refuge in the home of one family after finding a knife embedded in a headless body, he learns the tale of the curse of the Wurdulak. The grandfather Gorca (Karloff), has left to battle to Wurdulak and has ordered the family that if he does not return before midnight, he is not to be let back in, as by then he will have succumbed to the beast and as a ‘walking cadaver’ himself, he will pounce upon the next person he loves most. The family is indecisive as Gorca returns seconds after the stroke of midnight and starts behaving strangely. Vladimir has fallen for the young and beautiful Sdenka (Susy Andersen) but first the family has to figure what to make of Gorca’s sudden interest in his young grandson and the fact that the knife Vladimir found was Gorca’s.

Easily the best of the three stories (although all are powerful), the colors are lavish and bold throughout, with scenes saturated in reds, greens, blues and yellows. The movie poster says it all.

The final story, “The Drop of Water” is about a caretaker (Jacqueline Pierreux) who is called upon when one of her elderly patients has passed away late one night and takes the opportunity to pilfer one of the dead woman’s rings. She is of course haunted by the ghost of the old woman sporting a freakish death mask like you’ve never seen before. Her haunting is exemplified by the sound of dripping water and a pestering fly, both of which were present at the time of her crime.

Simply a masterful anthology that rivals anything from Hammer or other Amicus productions and one of the best Bava directorial outings rivaled only perhaps by Black Sunday.

Movie Reviews 199 – Grité una Noche (2005)

November 17, 2014

Grite Una NocheI’ve professed my admiration for Adrían García Bogliano before, first for Masacre, Esta Noche (which he co-directed with his brother Ramiro) and then again for Habitaciones Para Turistas. Those low budget Spanish gems (also written by the Bogliano brothers) were refreshingly original stories that caught viewers off guard when realization set in about the true shocking circumstances of the protagonists found themselves in.

Unfortunately Grité una Noche (Scream the Night), filmed in the interim period, fails to deliver the anticipated originality and charm and opts for a mundane and simplistic ghost story. I actually enjoyed the non-cohesive beginning where we are trying to figure who’s who among a band of loosely knit girlfriends and school mates as they talk about boys, snipe one another and rebel as all teenagers do. We soon find out the relationships of the friends and family members including which have had particular experiences that will figure into the story.

Resembling more an italian Giallo at times with a spectre that sports a blonde wig and wearing sunglasses whose apparition keeps on spooking the girls, we slowly learn about a kid who committed suicide at the local high school. The movie then devolves into the mundane and monotonous ghost story we’ve seen a million times before, only done better. For this particular trip Bogliano could have learned a thing or two from the people who made the Whispering Corridors series.

The best this film could muster is a daring lesbian first encounter in lieu of any surprises or twists. Sorry Adrían, but I rate this one a pass.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Alex Irvine (2014)

November 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes NovelThis isn’t so much a novel review as it is a comparison of the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine to the movie. So be forewarned, I assume readers are already at least familiar with the movie.

First let’s be clear on one point.There are two distinct kinds of movie ‘novelizations’.

When a movie is based on a preexisting novel, the movie is really an adaptation of the novel and may have little (or almost nothing in some cases) in common. The movie is basically cashing in on a novel of some repute, whether it adheres to the story or not. Ironically the 1968 Planet of the Apes movie was one of those where the movie adaptation treatment which only kept the basic premise and the main characters was vastly superior to Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes.

The other, more common novelization, as is the case here with the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is strictly an adaptation based on the movie script (or one of the preliminary scripts as the movie is still in development). In these cases there is little or no difference between the written word and what appears on screen. The studios and publishers are basically trying to cash in on the popularity of the movie, luring a few who haven’t seen the movie and simply want to read the story, but more likely targeted to the ardent fan of the subject matter, as I include myself in that category for all things Planet of the Apes.

But even with direct script novelizations authors sometime take liberties, and while not changing any scenes, they can still provide new, fresh perception and depth to the characters and give readers insight into events and specific actions. This is often provided by describing the thought process of characters or highlighting things that characters have visually singled out that may have been missed onscreen by moviegoers. In this way, a novelization can deliver a richer experience to a movie.

I was hoping that this particular novelization would fall into that latter category and provide an enhanced experience to Dawn. A movie featuring talking apes who are only beginning to grasp the concept of speech it provides an excellent opportunity to explore more. What are the apes who hardly speak  thinking? What is their unique take on events given their non-human perspective? Even the main character Caesar, while the most proficient speaker, he is not very verbose, and mostly still signs rather than speak with the other apes. So if you are looking for more insight on the characters, this novelization fails in that regard.

So what, if anything does the novel have to offer compared to the movie itself? I did find it interesting in how they handled Koba’s last scene.  Koba plunges down the skyscraper into the abyss below but there is no definitive eyewitness account of any human or ape seeing him splatter below and everybody just assumes he died in the plunge. It’s an important distinction because in the moments leading up to his death during the battle with Caesar the building is rocked and many apes lose their footing. The novel mentions apes clearly dying as a result (described as bodies laying across beams), but some, including Caesar, manage to grip onto beams and other fixtures. So it is possible, however unlikely, that Koba also managed to grip onto something on the way down. This is a case where the novel could have easily provided clarification but it did not.

There is one small pertinent addition to the novel and an important one considering what we can expect in the next movie. Some of the early movie teasers and trailers showed scenes of a battleship entering the San Francisco bay, but this footage never made it into the movie for some reason or another. This scene is included at the end of the novel, shaping a potential new heightened war among the apes and humans. Now it is possible that the scene was excised from the movie because the franchise brain trusts changed their mind and no longer wanted this to be the cliffhanger as some other direction has since been decided upon. Perhaps they just did not bother removing it from the novel or, more likely, it was too late to change because printing was already in progress. Whatever the reason for the difference it will be interesting to see if readers did get a real advance peek.

Movie Reviews 198 – Black Christmas (1974)

November 9, 2014

Black ChristmasThere are plenty of debates regarding the birth of the slasher film and what impact some of those films had on others that followed them. Black Christmas was one of those that, while not making an initial immediate impact (it’s US release was terribly bungled) influenced many genre filmmakers in the following years and is now considered a cult classic. With good reason I might add.

The Canexploitation bonanza that resulted from the infamous Canadian Tax Credit program of the 70’s intended to invigorate the fledgling Canadian film industry gave us such films as Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine and even financed some of David Cronenberg’s earlier films. But Black Christmas was one of the more polished films and is easily one of the best products to emerge from the initiative.

Producer and director Bob Clark enlisted genre favorite John Saxon and a bunch of young actresses including star Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and even SCTV alumni Andrea Martin to play the sorority house members that are terrorized by mysterious prank phone caller “Billy”. Having already begun murdering girls in town, Billy manages to enter and hide in the attic of the Pi Kappa Sig sorority house upon which he then targets the occupants remaining after most have left for Christmas vacations.

Lt. Fuller (Saxon) is the cop piecing together the clues including a hilarious sex pun left in an official police statement by Barb (Kidder), the obvious rebel of the bunch of girls. He’s also got to deal with a nip drinking House Mother who sneaks a swig every minute she’s alone, and the obvious suspect in failed pianist scholar Peter (Keir Dullea of Starlost, 2001 fame), a spurned lover of Jess (Hussey). One of the reasons for the films success is not only the range of suspects viewers have to judge, but the open ending that keeps “Billy” almost as mysterious as he was at the beginning. “Billy” will never be as Famous as Jason, Mike Myers or Freddy Krueger, but he paved the way for his bloody brethren.

SlientNightEvilNightAlso released as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House, (that last title being ironic in that the movie When a Stranger Calls released five years later basically stole the premise of this movie), the suspense is thick throughout and the chills are as cold as the film’s winter Holiday setting.

Another great irony is that producer Clark is probably best known for another classic Christmas movie he made a few years later, the holiday favorite A Christmas Story. But in that movie the threat comes from a Red Ryder B.B. gun and the everyone’s fear that Ralphie will shoot his eye out. I highly recommend a double feature night where you watch both of these classics together and get the very best, if polar opposite, takes on Yuletide viewing.

Movie Reviews 197 – Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001)

October 27, 2014

Children of the Corn RevelationIt’s watching movies like these that make me question my obsession to be a ‘completist’ and watch every movie in a series no matter how bad the successive releases get. It’s taken me more than four months to recover from Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return and finally watch this seventh installment in the Children of the Corn series. More importantly, Children of the Corn: Revelation is the last movie that I have. Well for now at least.

It begins promisingly enough with a woman who arrives at a recently condemned building into which her grandmother has inexplicably just moved into. All the tenants have received their 30 day eviction notices, and as you can imagine the last tenants remaining are all ‘down on their luck’ stereotypes including a stripper, a thief, a pothead and a wheelchair bound grumpy old man. Not the kind of folks you’d want meet at an apartment building get together party.

Jamie (Claudette Mink) finds that her grandmother has vanished sometime before her arrival and it is up to her and a reluctant police officer to solve the mysterious disappearance.  Over time Jamie learns a lot about her grandmother’s past that includes her being the sole survivor of a large circus tent fire in which a number of children perished 60 years ago. All the more so compelling given the fact that Jamie own parents recently died in a fire as well.

Jamie’s hunt for clues among the tenants is useless and the only other intriguing aspects are the sporadic appearance of a shadowy disfigured priest (Michael Ironside) and ghostly looking kids seen both in the apartment complex and the surrounding neighborhood.  Aside from the kids the only hint to series theme are the cornstalks that grow profusely around the edge of the building, and the priests single dire warning about “He who walks behind the rows”.

The main problem with this movie is that after setting up the interesting mystery, the latter half of the film becomes a killfest in which each of the tenants die gruesome deaths but only after finding dried corn wreaths on their front doors. It’s all silly at this point, and Jamie’s sleuthing eventually determines that the current upswell is related to that faithful fire long ago. A waste of a good cast and an otherwise decent production. What this movie needed was a better script that built up on the initial mystery instead of opting for the splatter focus as an ending. Not that there’s anything wrong with the splatter, it’s just that splatter, corny or otherwise.  does not make a movie. This movie is better than it’s predecessor, but just barely. And that’s how I sat through this one. Just barely.

I’ve already put in more words than this films deserves and doubt I’ll be watching Children of the Corn: Genesis, which at this point was the last movie in the series. But you know me. I am a completist so who knows.

Movie Reviews 196 – High Plains Drifter (1973)

October 20, 2014

High Plains DrifterThe Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western career. Part of director Sergio Leone’s “Man with no Name” trilogy, it was where Eastwood would define his stoic, silent gunfighter persona and what would turn out to be his big break in film. But while the other movies in the trilogy are fine (A Fistfull of Dollars and For a few Dollars More) I would rate High Plains Drifter as my second favorite Eastwood western.

While it was his second feature directorial stint (he’d already made a mark in the director’s chair with Play Misty for Me) he clearly shows his talent for blending the gun battles with drama and characters, even if the character he plays is a thinly veiled copy of “the man with no name”, simply called “the stranger” in this movie.

The story is not very complex, but plot manages to retain a few lingering questions that really make it all the more interesting. Clint silently rides into a desolate small town and immediately raises eyebrows from all the town folk. After taking care of a few amenities mostly silently but not without incident he heads over to the barbershop. As he sits in the barbers chair for a much needed shave three gung-ho cowboy who he seems to have ticked the wrong way pile into the shop but before they can pull their twitchy triggers Clint mows them down with nary a flinch.

Trouble is, those gunfighters were hired by the town because three other gunmen put into jail a long time ago are scheduled to be released from prison and they’ve let it be known that they intend to return to the town to avenge their jail sentences. The town then tries to convince Clint to hang around and take care of the three men on the way. Clint decides to take on the town at the promise that they would “do anything” in return upon which Clint tests their resolve and the definition of “anything” often with comic results.

But there is much more to the history between the jailed outlaws and the townspeople that the stranger was led to believe. A dirty little secret where most in town aren’t as innocent as they portray themselves to be. The three men jailed killed the Marshall but the rest of the town just stood back and let them, turning their backs as the crime was being committed.

We eventually learn the whole truth of course but even so, there remains a nagging feeling that perhaps the stranger coming in as he did was no coincidence at all. All for you viewers to decide as you watch this underrated and somewhat forgotten dusty gem.


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