Monday, June 23, 2014

Maniac (2012) - Review

Maniac (2012).  Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder and America Olivio.

Four stars.


So after a small break, I'm returning to remake territory.  And this time, it's one that far surpasses the original.  The 1980 version featured Joe Spinell as a damaged mama's boy.  As you might remember from that film, Spinell played Frank Zito, a serial killer who targeted women for the purposes of scalping.  He would take the trophies to his apartment and decorate his collection of mannequins.  His psychosis was attributed back to maternal abuse.  The 1980 version was directed by legendary exploitation guru William Lustig, who would later go on to head the once-great Anchor Bay and later Blue Underground.  While I've enjoyed Lustig's other films (Vigilante and Relentless come to mind), I've never been a big fan of Maniac '80.  I think my favorite parts of that movie were Tom Savini getting his head blown off in the car and the super hot Caroline Munro playing Zito's love interest Anna.  Aside from that, I always felt it was a tad bit slow to really be enjoyable.

Not so for this movie.  Elijah Wood takes his turn as Frank Zito and he outshines Spinell's original performance.  Not because Spinell is a bad actor, because he definitely did a menacing turn with Zito.  It's because Elijah Wood excels in this role, making the character somewhat sympathetic yet completely evil.  Wood's take on the character shows a man whose life has been drug through the mud by a dominate mother and left abandoned after her subsequent death.  As a result, he has no chance of ever leading a life with a modicum of normalcy, instead continuing with his brutal twisted doings.  This time around, Anna the photographer is played by Nora Arnezeder.

As far as the plot goes, this is essentially the same movie.  Zito spends his time playing with mannequins and targeting women for annihilation (albeit through more modern means such as dating sites).  But what legitimately sets it aside from the original is that it's almost entirely told in first-person.  This twist is interesting, because it gives a different take / perspective to this type of movie.  Whereas Joe Spinell's take was that of another psychopath re-enacting vicarious matricide on unsuspecting victims, Wood allows for the audience to understand his motivations through wearing him a mask.  Further, Zito's pursuit of Anna, as shown to the audience, gives a glimpse into what could have been for this otherwise scarred person.

Also, we get to hear the Q Lazzarus song from The Silence of the Lambs.  The song really has a place here.

And for your listening pleasure . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Tall Man (2012) - Review

The Tall Man (2012).  Starring Jessica Biel, Stephen McHattie and William B. Davis.

One half star.


Okay, so does anyone remember that stupid meme known as the slender man?  You know, the one where this really thin dude shows in the backgrounds of pictures with children in playgrounds.  Usually, the children would later disappear in connection with the foreboding presence nearby.

Despite the implication in the title, we don't get that here.  What we do get, however, is a movie that presents itself as a legitimate horror film.  But instead, it's about a town full of mouth breathing idiots whose children are disappearing right and left.  To further complicate things, they believe a tall man is the one responsible.

Enter Julia Denning (Biels), a nurse practitioner who works in the local free clinic that she once co-owned with her husband, who just so happened to be a doctor.  Anyway, she's constantly fighting a losing battle to help the dimwitted,excuse me, disadvantaged people of the town.  Things finally come to a head when the tall man steals her son.

But wait . . . it turns out that she has no son.  In fact, the boys mother is posing as the tall man to force Julia's hand and get her child back.  It turns out that Julia is partially responsible for the disappearances.  And the tall man?  Well, it seems Julia's husband is still alive and posing as the person in question.  But why on Earth are these two people stealing redneck children?  Because they're relocating them to different, supposedly better homes.  After Julia takes the fall for the disappearances, the rest of the movie becomes a case study for the ethics of either leaving these children with their birth parents or moving them somewhere "better."

So why am I reviewing this?  Because I was lead to believe by the trailer that this was a damn horror movie.  It was even listed on IMDb's upcoming horror films for 2013.  So yeah, got hosed on this one.  It only gets a half star for Jessica Biel hotness, and that's limited to a couple of seconds in this movie.  Seriously, it's a Lifetime Network movie that disguises itself as an exercise in terror.  And it doesn't even work in the medium it's intended for. Avoid at all costs.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Fingerprints (2006) - Review

Fingerprints (2006).  Starring Leah Pipes, Geoffrey Lewis and Lou Diamond Phillips.

Three and a half stars.

Yet another direct-to-video horror film that blew away my expectations.  And I had no expectations for this film.  I actually got it after forgetting to update my Netflix DVD queue (yes, I still have the mail service).  I rolled my eyes when I saw the sleeve endorsed this film because it featured.  Kristin Cavallari from MTV's Laguna Beach.  Because nothing is more socially relevant than that show in 2014.  Not to mention that anything MTV was a turnoff when I was in my 20s.

But don't let that bother you.  This is a well crafted ghost story based on a urban legend from San Antonio.  It's about a busload of children that get are tragically killed on a train crossing.  According to the legend, if you park your car where the crossing existed and leave it in neutral, the ghosts of the children will push you from harm's way.

This movie does a sinister twist on that legend and shoots it in Oklahoma instead.  Doing the Scooby Doo bit, we have Leah Pipes as Melanie, a recovering teen drug addict who is traumatized due to the drug-related death of her boyfriend.  Melanie meets up with her un-trusting parents and sister Crystal (Cavallari), all of which have moved to a new town for a fresh start.  Melanie finds a confidant in local guidance counselor Doug (Lou Diamond Phillips in a three-dimensional role for a change).  Crystal shows Melanie the train crossing trick, resulting ghostly encounters with a young girl trying to warn the sisters of impending danger.  Soon, Melanie learns there's more than meets the eye with the local legend, which seems to involve former mayor turned eccentric alcoholic Keelor (Lewis) and Mary (Sally Kirkland), the daughter of the train conductor involved in the crash.

There are a few things that are somewhat uneven about this film, such as the obvious issued with the time gap between the accident and the present.  Also, the indifferent attitudes from the parents and authority figures despite evidence of impending trouble is disconcerting.  Otherwise, I highly recommend this one for viewing by die-hard horror fans as one of the few alternatives to found footage or torture porn commonly flooding the viewing options today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Suspended Animation (2001) - Review

Suspended Animation (2001).  Starring Alex McArthur, Sage Allen and Laura Esterman.

Three Stars


This is one that fits right into the category of "they don't make them like this anymore."  And it's true.  This is one of those direct-to-video films that were common place in the late 80s through early 2000s.  You know, the ones that you only saw because it was on Cinemax late at night?  The ones that  probably used the same cinematographer  for the soft-porn shown on Cinemax as well?  What sets this film aside from many of the other films of that era is that it is quite good.  In fact, this would be a four star movie if not for the weird plot development and the odd plot hole involving the villian.  But I will get to that in a minute.

This is one of the few movies that uses actor Alex McArthur to his fullest value.  It's sad, because McArthur is an intense actor and his talents rival that of his contemporaries.  Yet through most of his career, he has laguished in bit parts.  Besides this film (and maybe Devil in the Flesh), the movie where he shines is William Friedkin's Rampage.  I'm debating on reviewing that one later, but I'm still not sure it's genre appropriate.

Anyway, McArthur's character (a man named Tom Kempton) is a animator struggling with developing material for a new project. Something interesting to note he states, at one point, that he is director of The Lion King in this movie.  So Disney willingly let this lowkey production actually name drop trademarked characters?  Kempton runs afoul of two cannibalistic sisters out in the great woods of northern Michigan while on a snowmobile trip.  The sisters are named Ann and Vanessa Boulette, both of which are elderly.  Whereas Ann is the homely, large-boned homemaker type, Vanessa is a worldly woman who claims to have ballet danced for George Ballanchine, yet another weird name drop.  Kempton appeals to the vanity of Vanessa by telling her he wants to base his next movie upon her.   Through a series of events, Ann is killed.  Kempton is rescued by his snowmobiling buddies.  Vannessa snipes the friends off before getting consumed by an avalanche.

Months later, Tom has recovered from the incident and Vanessa is believed to be dead.  As it turns out, he's so obsessed with the incident that he ACTUALLY WANTS TO MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT VANESSA!  So after some research, he tracks down Vanessa's brother.  Tom visits him in prison and the brother informs him of Vanessa's daughter that was taken away when she did a stint on the funny farm.  Much to the chagrin of Tom's hot wife Hilary, he finds the daughter named Clara (Maria Cina).  Clara is a mucho-attractive-yet-struggling actress seems really nice.  And we get some weird sexual overtones, so much so that I'm pretty certain Tom would've ended up banging her.  He hires Clara to model for him to draw, due to the fact that her frame closely resembles her mother's.  Clara is unaware of her sinister legacy until tom relates his ordeal in rural Michigan.  This shifts focus to Clara's demented son, Sandor, who beats and verbally abuses his mother on a regular basis.  Tom follows Sandor to a secluded spot where he's been collecting dead animals.  Surprise, surprise, Sandor has a severed vagina in his collection as well.  Tom skedaddles back to warn Clara, which leads to an altercation with Sandor.  As a result, Sandor is killed in self defense. Oddly enough, Clara seems to be fine with this later.

Cut to ANOTHER few months later.  The new Disney flick based on the cannibalistic Ann and Vanessa is released.  Clara attends along with Tom his pregnant wife.  As they return home, they're greeted by . . . bum bum BUM! fucking Vanessa.  Because after all, she was able to survive gunshot wounds, sub-zero temperatures and a fucking avalanche.  I really like this movie, but come on?  Do we really need to get the Roman Brady treatment for this character?  This is the part of the film I really could have done without.  Anyway, Tom is forced by Vanessa to coax Clara back to his home for a mother-daughter reunion.  In the process, Clara is brutally killed, Tom wounded and pregnant Hilary is left to defend herself.

What impresses me about this flick is how good it is, despite being such an old school direct-to-video flick.  There are times that if feels like it's going to turn into The Red Show Diaries (so much so that you expect to hear David Duchovnys' voice).  I fully expected Tom to bang Clara at given moment.  But this movie doesn't do that, it maintains class and integrity until the end.  The direct, John D. Hancock, is a guy wouldn't expect less from either.  He's known primarily known for the Robert DeNiro baseball flick Bang the Drum Slowly.  He also directed one of my favorite vampire flicks, the early 70s surrealist-vampire flick Let's Scare Jessica to Death (which I plan to review at a later date).  However, his career seems to have stalled since he and his wife Dorothy (who also wrote the book and screenplay for this movie) were dismissed from as creators of Jaws 2.  This is an example of why Hollywood is absolutely turning to shit.  Hancock clearly displays that he has the chops to still produce quality films.  Yet, being limited to low budgets and shoddy productions is how some artists produce their masterpieces.  Nonetheless, this is another film would gladly pay to see in the theater as opposed to, say, Man of Steel.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Creep Van (2012) - Review

Creep Van (2012).  Starring Brian Kolodziej, Amy Werhell and Collin Bersen.

Zero stars.


Yeah, this is one of those movies that likes to suck you in with the cover art.  It may have a cheesy title, but you think, "How could I possibly go wrong?  It's sure to be camp?"  

You would be sadly, sadly mistaken.  This is bird-bomb to the mouth, ultra-runny 100% angus shit.  This is so bad that Troma pictures probably wouldn't release it.  That's funny, because Lloyd Kaufman shows up in a cameo in this movie.  And for reasons Stephen Hawking couldn't understand, they named one of the characters in reference.  So, we have a cameo from the president of Troma and a character name homage at the same time.  Jesus. H.  Christ.

But let's get to the true problem.  Forget the absurdity of a van some deviant has rigged with three hundred torture devices that would put Jigsaw to shame.  Forget that Lloyd Kaufman is in this movie.  This movie is that has no pulse.  The majority of it is spent waiting for the inevitable showdown between the van killer and the main character Campbell Jackson (Kolodziej).  Jackson is this failed actor that has returned to Detroit, broke, without a job and no wheels. Upon returning home, he gets a new job working at a carwash.  Despite the stresses of dealing with an odd boss and cavalier chiba-monkey co-workers, he manages to strike up a relationship with office secretary Amy (Werhell).  Still, Campbell ain't got no wheels.  So what does he do to impress his new ladyfriend?  He decides to call about a piece of shit of shit pedo-van sitting along a side street.  The title van of the piece.  Because nothing impresses the ladies like a vehicle that says you're into abductions.

And ya know what?  They make constant jokes about this too.  A large hunk of this movie's existence is to be a joke about creep 1970s vans.  Clever writing guys.  This draws the attention of the creep, who leaves dozens of obscene messages for Campbell, channeling the attic killer from Black Xmas '74. 

Back to the main narrative, or lack thereof, Campbell makes a new friend when he saves the life of con-artist/religious guru Swami Ted (played by Collin Bernsen, son of LA Law's Corbin Bernsen).  Ted fervently agrees to help Campbell after the creep kills his oversexed roommate and kidnaps Amy.

Oh yeah, I haven't mentioned the roommate.  The attempts to make this dipshit comedy relief is an exercise in masochism.  For instance, we're expected to buy that this guy and his ladyfriend contorted themselves into one of those igloo doghouses to have sex.  Then, we have these awkward scenes where Campbell is conversing with them.  During which, they're donning their oh-so-scandalous erotic gear.  The whole affair really has that nail scraping the chalkboard quality to it.  Thankfully, they're both put out of their misery when the creep crashes the van into their pad and massacres them.

Any, Campbell and Ted face off against the creep.  As a result, everybody except Campbell ends up dead.  To make matters worse, director Scott McKinlay ends this fucking thing the best way he can - by having Campbell accidentally kill Amy, thus implicating him in the murders.   And the idiot cops just point the finger straight at him and force him through the system more quickly than humanly possible.  Never mind the fact that there's extensive evidence that proves Campbell didn't kill this people, such as the fact he couldn't have been present for many of the OTHER MURDERS.  No, he's obviously the fucking killer.  The last we see of Campbell shows him receiving electro-convulsion therapy in some unnamed clinic.  I guess they didn't want to show him getting a lobotomy.  Then audiences would have expected a large Native American to throw a sink through a window.

I guess what ultimately pisses me off is that a little better story and better use of the recording equipment could have produced something much more entertaining.  Instead, we get the contrived camp that collects dust on the shelves of Family Video.  If you decide to go more in favor of Junior and not Ginger Snaps, then perhaps you should consider working in another medium.