Movie Reviews 246 – Nightmare Castle (1965)

November 21, 2015

Nightmare CastleWhat could be better than watching fiery eyed Barbara Steel in a gothic horror role? Having her play the role of two sisters in the same film, one a sultry blonde, the other a dark vixen. Grrrowl! Nightmare Castle may not be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a few horror staples (besides Steel) that make it worthy of a late night viewing.

Botanist Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers his wife Muriel (Steel) fooling around with the handyman David in the greenhouse after the doctor supposedly just left for a trip. Catching them in the act he savagely beats and whips them before having them hung in shackles in the castle basement. As he tortures Muriel and she begs to be killed she also reveals that she has already preempted any plans he may have had to kill her and inherit the castle as she secretly created a will bequeathing her possessions to her sister Jenny, currently resident in an asylum.

This surprise revelation also worries the scraggly old housemaid Solange (Helga Liné) as Dr. Arrowsmith had developed a serum that would rejuvenate her to her former beauty and the two had planned to live together in the castle after killing Muriel. Undaunted, Arrowsmith kills the lovestruck Muriel and David, removing their bloody, beating hearts, and has equally sinister plans for dealing with Jenny.

We then cut to the doctor arriving at the front door by horse and buggy with his new wife… Jenny!. (It seems marrying your widowed brother-in-law was deemed acceptable in Victorian times.) His plan is simple. Have Muriel believe that she is once again losing her sanity (or at least believing so) which will give him title to the castle. Going so far as to invite a psychiatrist to live with them for a while, with Solange as his accomplice (inexplicably now a beautiful young woman again, although she is getting blood transfusions from Jenny with perhaps with the aid of some serum) they no sooner begin their assault on Jenny’s senses when the murdered duo start appearing for real. Revenge can be sweet especially when dealt by Steel, now walking around in a zombie like state with her dark hair covering half her face.

There are plot holes galore including no explanation of Solange’s decrepit old state at the beginning of the film (and why would Arrowsmith even fathom rejuvenating her?), why Muriel bothered sticking around in the first place since she already made sure Arrowsmith would not inherit the castle, and most of all, why invite an impartial psychiatrist to stay in the house as you play with someone’s senses.

This Italian horror serving courtesy of director Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald) also went by the title The Faceless Monster, apropos given the glimpse we get of a scarred half face Muriel in the final moments of the film. Maestro Ennio Morricone provides the score, but don’t expect any of his later musical magistry here.

Not a classic, but Steel fans will be amply rewarded and there are a few neat FX and makeup scenes to make it watchable. My DVD was one from the 50 Horror Movie collection of public domain movies and was lackluster transfer. It would be nice to someday see this in a clean and restored form as it deserves better.

Movie Reviews 245 – Room 205 (2007)

November 18, 2015

Room 205Scandinavian movies are known for being slow, atmospheric, moody, philosophical and sometimes even a bit smug and pretentious. The Danish Room 205 (original title “Kollegiet”) is none of these.

Instead we have a run-of-the-mill Ghost in the Mirror story that isn’t very original, low on scares or tension, and not only has the silliest ghost eradication solution, but a flawed one at that.

Katrine (Neel Rønholt) has just moved into a dorm apartment building to start her studies and tries to make friends with a group sharing the common kitchen. As she is moving her stuff into the kitchen three friends are making fun of the student she is replacing, Rolf (Mikkel Arendt). The tiddy knit trio of bitchy Sanne (Julie R. Ølgaard), hunkman Lukas (Jon Lange) and tag along dimwit Lena (Mira Wanting) form the obvious “In” crowd and Rolf never made the cut and has decided to move out.

The reserved Katrine tries to fit in and even thinks she’s found a new beau in Lukas when he makes out with her during a party, but by the end of the night finds herself is the butt of a joke when she is lured to Sanne’s apartment only to be scared by the whole party crowd. Worse, Sanne is now pissed with Katrine for making out with Lukas, a former flame. Katrine soon discovers she, like Rolf before her, is not part of the In crowd, getting the cold shoulder even from Lukas.

Sanne is living in apartment 205, one with a notorious history that resulted in the death of a former student and who supposedly once haunted the building. When Katrine accidentally breaks Sannes bathroom mirror, she begins seeing apparitions of a ghostly girl, and seeks out Rolf who she suspects knows more. When she does find him he confesses that he too saw apparitions and had in fact thoroughly researched the tragic history of the girl that died.

Figuring that the ghost was released when Katrine broke Sanne’s mirror in 205, the pair believe that the apparition is now hoping from one mirror to another as a medium and that that they must get all the pieces of the broken mirror and reconstruct it so that she may return to the netherworld (conveniently forgetting the fact that Rolf had the apparitions before Katrine even arrived).

Aside from a few jump scares and a negligible amount of student kills, this one falls as flat as reading Kierkegaard existentialist parables on a Saturday night. Their are better ‘room’ movies out there. 1408, Panic Room, Room 237, A Room with a View. Ok, maybe strike that last one.

The DVD is one of the Lion’s Gate Ghosthouse Underground horror series and as such contained a whole bunch of previews of other movies in the series, a few of them sitting on my shelves. I’m hoping they fare better than this one.

Movie Reviews 244 – Frozen (2010)

November 15, 2015

FrozenAlright kid. You probably googled “Frozen” hoping to find a website with pictures and information on the cute Disney animation movie with a goofy snowman and a princess and a soundtrack that’s driving your parents nuts. If that’s the case you better leave right now because this review of Frozen is about a different movie and if you continue reading you’ll poop in your pants, and once your parents see what you’re reading on the internet they’ll take away your Playstation for a year. Now scram!

Whew. Now that we’ve gotten rid of the rugrats, we can dwell on my kind of movie review. This Frozen is brought to you by Adam Green, the same man who brought us the Hatchet movie franchise which should give you a better idea of what’s in store.

Best buds Dan and Joe (Kevin Zegers and Shawn Ashmore, not to be confused with twin brother Aaron Ashmore of Smallville) are hitting the slopes for one of their annual manly bonding trips but this time Dan’s girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) has tagged along garnering a bit of friction between the boys.

When they pester the ski lift operator to let them go for one last run as it is closing, a sequence of missteps and coincidental events leaves them stranded up in the air, mid way to the top. As the sole occupants on the lift with nightfall approaching and with the resort closing for an entire week, they quickly submit to the situation at hand. They either have to figure out a way to get down, or die trying.

From that point on the luckless trio are subject to every manner of indignity and bad luck imaginable. I’ll let your mind conjure some of the more obvious perils they end up facing, but I’ll tell you now you’ll only be scratching the surface. It gets bloody and gory and absolutely delightful if you’re just sitting at home nice, warm and cozy as you watch them freeze and contemplate their next move.

The success in the movie is how it drives that fine line of throwing a succession of harrowing dangers while not stepping too far beyond a boundary to make them ridiculous and improbable. Sure, having them all thrown is in itself improbable, and there was one “Come on!” moment, but overall it was within the realm of possibility, if barely.

The entire cast proved excellent, with well developed characters and dialogue to match. Also watch for Hatchet slasher Kane Hodder as the lift operator with an attitude.

I’ve never been a skier but the one time I did go I recall freezing my ass on that lift, slowly climbing the mountain face as the winds picked up, asking myself “What am I doing here?”. Perhaps our friends should have done the same.

Ode to my 36 E squared rocket

November 8, 2015

36 E Squared croppedSome days, the rocket Gods win. Today they must have been dancing the cha cha.

I have a steadfast rule that I snap a pic of every one of my rockets before launching them on their first flight, the thought being that it may be the only memory I ever have if something goes wrong. Today, that rule sadly proved itself a wise move. Yeah, rocketry can be a maddening hobby at times.

It’s not just loosing a new rocket that bothered me so much. Or the video camera that has a nice flight recorded on it. Or that last minute altimeter I decided to tack on so I could also get some data.

What’s frustrating was that this was a replacement rocket for an old favorite of mine, an Estes 36 D squared that finally had one too many flights and was no longer worth the repairs it needed after 19 flights. This is a dual cluster rocket that has curved fins, exposed motor mount tube and three transitions. Not your average bread and butter rocket design.

Finding a replacement, was extremely hard and I soon learned after searching that it was no longer in production. Then, I happened to find an online  school supply store of all places, that not only carried a few but at a bargain price. But a few days of trial and error navigating their website and their support personnel, neither of which we’re designed or accustomed to Canadian orders, and I finally got them to ship the rocket… to New York where I had to pick it up across the border.

When it arrived I not only decided that I would put everything into the build (coats of polyurethane for the fins, fine finish, primer, fancy paint job, decals, rail buttons for that future dual E flight, all topped off with some nice clear coat to give it that extra shine and protection), but I would also mod it to also be capable of flying it on E’s some day and really put her up there, sims putting an E flight at 1500ft. But that would have to wait for a nice windless day of course.

But today was a bit windy so I only dared a D cluster flight. And it flew beautifully. I could already anticipated a nice video when I got the rocket back. As it was descending, I knew right away that this was going to be a long walk. But I got a pretty good bead on it and even saw it go down. But As I walked the ‘line’ I had I knew that I was approaching the 2nd of two ditches at our launch site and beyond it was dense, tall weeds and shrubs. I spent over an hour searching in front of the ditch making sure it wasn’t lost somewhere there and after a long sigh, I knew I had to tackle the other side, which wasn’t even easy to get to. Spent more than an hour there, until I just had to give up. Over 3 hours of searching in total.

Barring a miracle that someone else finds it, it’s a goner.

But there is one silver lining in all this. When I realized that this was a rocket that was going to be hard to find in the future, I was at least smart enough to by TWO from that online source. The last two they had in stock. So the 36 E squared will be back! someday, but I’m too tired to even think about that now.

And now, I’ll just go in a corner and cry for a while if you don’t mind. We rocketeers are also a fragile bunch at times.

Movie Reviews 243 – Forest of Death (2007)

November 7, 2015

Forest of DeathI’m beginning to believe that the much vaunted Pang Brothers may be categorized in the class of ‘one hit wonders’, but being two brothers fittingly had two hits with The Eye and Bangkok Dangerous. Forest of Death released on the heels of Re-Cycle falls squarely in the pattern of moody films that skirt the edge of horror thriller, but in this case it doesn’t deliver the expected chills or the drama.

The film begins with a collage of various TV reports reporting on the strange phenomena of young adults going to various forests around the world and committing suicide. However detective Ha Chun-Chi (Shu Qi) knows that one of the supposed suicides was a murder, but time is ticking away for her to prove the incarcerated suspect (Canadian Lawrence Chou) is indeed a murderer.

She enlists the help of botanist Shum Shu-Hoi (Ekin Cheng) who is working on a theory that the forest plants and trees are not only sentient, but can communicate amongst themselves. Shum’s challenge is to get his girlfriend TV reporter May (Rain Li) to take his work seriously and not exploit it by hosting her low brow, sensationalist TV show that categorize reported sightings and events as silly supernatural ghost stories.

Despite placing clear markers along her trail into the forest to the reputed murder site, Ha inexplicably gets lost when trying to leave. Her rescue comes at the hand of Mr. Tin (Lau Siu-Ming), the forest ranger who lives in a tent in the woods. But there is an odd mein to Mr. Tin and a personal secretive shrine in his abode. Ha slowly breaks Tin’s facade and his crusade.

While there are a few interesting moments, the film suffers from a muddled and unclear storyline that once pieced together falls short in payout. The trademark cryptic and dour imagery familiar with other Pang Brother films is present, but in the end what we’ve got here is nothing more than a thinly disguised love story with a few unearthly elements. Even the love story falls flat when an abrupt turn at the end unconvincingly switches the characters being developed through most of the film.

Consider this a film that lost itself in the forest of superior Asian horrors.

Movie Reviews 242 – Sssssss (1973)

November 4, 2015

SssssssWhat we’ve got here is a failure to think logically about a solution to the world’s problems”. Imagine that in a southern drawl as only Strother Martin can utter in his classic Cool Hand Luke prison captain role.

Nutty ophiologist Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin) believes that the world’s inevitable ecological downfall is at hand with all the smog and pollution and that his clandestine research at his remote reptile lab will be the answer. Sadly, for newly hired hand David Blake (Dirk Benedict of original Battlestar Galactica fame), a student just looking to make a bit of coin, this means that he will be the next attempt to be a human-snake combining the intelligence of man with reptilian resilience to weather and climate extremes. I guess poor crazy Stoner (how apropos a name) never gave much thought of the loss of hands, arms, and legs as utile accoutrements that may actually be helpful for survival.

Blake naively believes Stoner’s explanation for giving him the injections as a way to build up immunity to venom and other perils he may encounter working alongside the doctor. Meanwhile  Stoner’s daughter and fellow researcher Kristina (Heather Menzies) is slowly falling for Blake. The transformation is slow at first with only sensitivity to temperatures and such, but just as the changes become drastic and Blake finds himself a prisoner, just as Kristina also stumbles upon the truth when she encounters the results of one of her father’s past failures being exhibited as a sideshow freak in a travelling carnival.

I loved this movie when I first saw it on the now defunct Scream satellite channel. It oozes chintzy 70’s horror but at the same time delivers some freaky transformation effects. There are a few side plots that include nosey cops and bullying school jock, but all you really care about when watching a movie like this are the reptiles, and there are plenty of them here, including a few real freaks of nature. I rate this a close second to my all time favorite herpetology movie: The Reptile, a Hammer studios film that is much darker, gothic and really scared the bejesus out of me when I saw it as a preschooler.

On a side note, Planet of the Apes enthusiasts and fans (such as myself) will be familiar with a number of the crew credits. Makeup and prosthetics master John Chambers, celebrated for creating the original classic PotA apes, provided some of the snake effects, while his fx partner in crime Dan Striepeke co-wrote the script here. There is a “blink and you’ll miss him” moment where Felix Silla who played the role of Gorilla Child in the scene where Taylor is being chased through an ape funeral in a simian house of worship is now one of the circus freaks in the travelling carnival. Finally, Richard Zanuck was a producer for both movies.

Movie Reviews 241 – Fragile (2005)

October 30, 2015

FragileWhen a night nurse abruptly quits her job right at Mercy Falls hospital in the midst of a move to a new building, Amy Nicholls (Calista Flockhart) is hired to fill the vacant position. If the move wasn’t drastic enough on it’s own, the Isle of Wight hospital’s woes are compounded when a train accident suddenly fills all the remaining beds at the new hospital. As a result Amy finds herself in a hospital that is barely functional and the last remaining patients, a handful of children in one ward will have to stay just a bit longer.

But some or something is disrupting that last push to get the last patients out. And what is it exactly about that mysterious second floor of the building that’s been shuttered for decades?. Amy befriends Maggie, a patient who tells her about “Charlotte’, a ghostly entity girl who wears a metal body brace and who communicates with the other kids using toy blocks. When Amy attempts to contact the nurse she replaced to question the circumstances of her departure she finds that she died in a accident the very next day after she left. She confronts the staff, only to have them dismiss the stories as urban legends. When Amy finds evidence that one of the boys had a bone spontaneously broken while lying untouched on an X-Ray table, she finally gets the truth about the history of a certain event that took place in the hospital.

The titular characteristic of fragility is pervasive, beginning with Amy herself who arrived at the hospital already in a tenuous state of mind, blaming herself for the death of a former patient. The twist ending is hinted at when Amy dares a visit the shuttered floor. Some of the horror comes at us not from the current ethereal events at the hospital, but from what we learn of passed as ‘medical treatment’ in bygone days.

Directed by Jaume Balagueró the man who later created the Spanish REC series of movies (remade in Hollywood as the Quarantine series), the DVD is one of the many titles released under the Fangoria FrightFest banner. While not as visceral as his later movies, it was a portent of things to come. I’ve got a one or two more movies from that collection, so here’s hoping they are as promising as this one.

Movie Reviews 240 – Storm of the Century (1999)

October 27, 2015

Storm of the CenturyComing right off a review of The Orphanage where a parent is faced with the agonizing mysterious disappearance of their child, horror meister Stephen King blazes a similar trail in his miniseries Storm of the Century where the parents of one town are imposed with an equally audacious plight.

The residents of Little Tall Island are used to the occasional meteorological flurry, but when indicators that a gargantuan winter storm is headed their way, even the hardy townsfolk begin to take precautions and stock up on supplies as they await the tempest. Little do they know that the weather will soon be the least of their concerns.

The coming gale also brings along a mysterious, cane wielding stranger who nonchalantly enters the house of an elderly woman, kills her and calmly awaits the arrival of the authorities to take him in. André Linoge (Colm Feore) has a message to deliver to the town and part-time lawman Michael Anderson (Timothy Daly) has to calm the town and try to figure out what Linoge is really up to. Locked in his cell Linoge exhibits his powers to compel people to do his bidding, which includes having them kill others or even themselves, each of which also prominently scribes (usually in blood) the message “Give me what I want and I will go away.” But when asked directly what exactly is it that he wants, he proclaims that he will only state his mission that night at the local church with everybody (still alive) present.

As the blizzard reaches its fiery peak that night Linoge first reveals his true form, that of a greying, moribund man and that what he wants is a young protégé that he can mold and meld to replace him as mystical sower of evil. To that end, he has decided that he wants one of the eight children living on Little Tall Island. As he does not have the powers to just take them outright and leave, he requires calmly puts it to the residents to willingly let him chose a successor that will be decided by a fair game of chance. A  tough decision as refusal will have him kill off everybody, including the children. The issue is to be determined by a simple vote among the residents.

With little time to decide whether to agree or not, the gathered folks have a tough decision to make. But from the outset Michael appears to be only one unwilling to agree to the sacrificial terms, regardless of the consequences. He is shocked when his own wife (Debrah Farentino) sides with the others despite the fact that their own son would be one of the children in the draw.

Although never stated outright, it is clear that the reason this particular town was chosen as the fount for an heir was because just about every citizen has their own dark secret. Their inner demons vary in magnitude, ranging from simple shameful conduct to law breakers, often not so much a secret at all, but just something that everyone feigns to publicly acknowledge. Everyone but Michael that is, seemingly the only unblemished soul around. The battle at hand between good and evil is a multi-faceted for Michael, pitted against Linoge, the rest of the town, and his own family. The last bastion of morality.

King stalwarts will be familiar with his typical Maine setting and other distinctive trappings, but the movie is slow going at first, giving us a sense of the characters making up the town and playing a bit of a waiting game until Linoge proffers his ultimatum. There is also an interesting tie-in to the legendary lost colony of Roanoke, a town whose residents mysteriously disappeared in 16th century North Carolina, implying that the town had a similar such encounter with evil. But the drama is gripping once the real storm sets in Michael along with the secluded residents ponder their future.

Movie Reviews 239 – The Orphanage (2007)

October 17, 2015

The OrphanageRare is the horror movie that perfectly blends elements of terror with human drama to achieve near “perfect movie” status. The Orphanage is one of those rare gems. Yes, it is clearly a horror movie from the outset with distinctly creepy things going on, but it is also the story of a mother’s love for her sickly child and that is the premise that overrides the movie from beginning to final frame.

Largely associated with Guillermo Del Toro who produced it, credit goes to director Juan Antonio Bayona and especially to writer Sergio Gutiérrez Sánchez for creating this tantalizing and touching Spanish movie while performing that acute balancing act between drama and horror.

A former orphan herself, Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband bought her former orphanage mansion and while living in it now as their home she hopes to create a new orphanage. Her own son Simón is adopted and recently learned he was not their own child after a mysterious visit by an elderly woman claiming to be a social worker who brings the news that Simón is HIV positive. Rattled and not wanting to hear more, Laura brusquely puts the woman to the door, only to later find her scampering the mansion grounds at night. At a party the next day Simón disappears without a trace. The only hint is a mysteriously child with a bag-like head covering that Laura encountered at the party. But no one can recall the child other than Laura.

Six months later, Laura is a disheveled mess, desperately still searching for her son. She chances upon the mysterious social worker one day in the streets of the city only to see her die before her very eyes. As the police pry into the woman’s past they discover that she had prior ties to the old orphanage which included a disfigured son named Tomás who often wore a bag-like covering to hide his features.

Laura resorts to a local psychic Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) despite her husband’s reluctance and this only begins to tear the couple apart. But once alone, Laura begins to find clues to the mystery and eventually we learn the horrific truth of what happened that day.

Don’t be fooled by the boogeyman aspect to the plot as the film is built upon intricate threads and even the most innocuous of events become relevant as the story unfolds until the end. It’s not what we think. It’s worse. Because the horror of a missing child is more abhorrent than any monster, perceived or otherwise.

Movie Reviews 238 – Of Unknown Origin (1983)

October 8, 2015

Of Unknown OriginHow could this movie have evaded my radar for so long? Peter Weller and Shannon Tweed starring in Of Unknown Origin, the story pitting a man against a solitary rat was filmed right in my hometown of Montreal. But more on that later.

Bart Hughes is the epitome of a successful man. He has a picturesque family featuring a stunningly beautiful wife (Tweed) and a loving, cute-as-a-button young son. He has a great job with a banking firm, and has been pegged as the frontrunner for a promotion he’s been bucking for. And at the end of a day’s hard work he gets to return to his inner New York city corner castle turret topped brownstone Victorian home. His pride and joy dream house, immaculately hand restored and renovated by himself. Basically he has everything a man can want.

As his wife and son depart for a few days with the grandfather, Bart is handed a very important folio to work on. Success with this one project would secure that much sought after promotion. He heads home to eagerly begin this assignment when his troubles begin. It seems that a rodent is scattering around the house, one who easily evades his store bought ‘simple’ traps. Bart then enlists the help of Clete (Louis Del Grande, former star of CBC’s Seeing Things), a neighbor who suggest a few more assiduous, cold blooded concoctions and mortal instruments. But these too, are to no avail.

The tension mounts in an ever escalating game of cat and mouse, where the mouse, an oversized rat, is winning every hand. As the war wages on, Bart’s bloodshot eyes become as beady as those of his rodent foe. Bart’s weapons of choice get bigger and as his psyche becomes focused on his foe, he loses grip with reality and everything and everyone he ever cared for. In the end, his mesmerized crusade begins gnawing the very home he set out to save and there is as much blood piling up in the rooms as there are torn bits of drywall and shattered furniture.

Essentially a message about materialism, the merits of the film lay squarely on the rising tension and Bart’s transformation and loss of context. While the effects do suffer in some areas (I swear the size of the rat changes in every scene it appears as different prop models are used), there are some cool contraptions that Bart resorts to as weapons.

In pantheon of rat movies, this one lies somewhere in between the excellent Willard (the original, the remake or even Ben the sequel to the original) on the high end of the scale, and the movie Rats (A.K.A. Killer Rats) with Ron Perlman on the low side.

Oh, and that Montreal connection? The exterior shots use the Drummond Mansion in Montreal at 3418 Drummond St. just up the street from Sherbrooke. Going to have to pass by next time I’m downtown there.


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