The Weekend Horror Double Bill: Dogs and Monsters March 25, 2007Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , 2 comments
Watchers (1988) Region 2
Corey Haim out acted by a dog shock! Come to think of it Corey Haim out acts a dog would have been more of a surprise. Haim plays the teenage hero in this adaptation of the Dean R. Koontz bestseller. When he finds a lost dog he takes it home with him little suspecting the mutt has escaped from a secret research lab or that it’s probably more intelligent than he is. It was part of an experiment to create the perfect killing machine, the dog itself acting as a lure to draw another genetically engineered creature to its victim and that other creature is free as well and looking to carve itself a little Haim sandwich.
While the novel this is based on had an equally silly premise it was still able to craft some effective moments most notably the climax which manages to elicit the reader’s sympathy for the “bad” beastie. There’s none of that here, everything is black and white. With the best moments of the novel excised this has been turned into a simple boy and his dog tale albeit with horror/SF slant. Nothing wrong with that per se, I’ve enjoyed many a shaggy dog story but then they never starred Cory Haim. He’s all 80’s hair and zero acting ability, I really wasn’t kidding about the dog having superior thespian abilities.
Helping to make things slightly more bearable is horror stalwart Michael Ironside, an actor capable of great performances when given something decent to work with. On the other hand when he knows he’s making a dog (pun intended) he can be so over the top that he’s worth watching just to see how much of the scenery he’ll chew. Here his performance is equal parts ham and cheese and while he doesn’t make the film worth watching he does liven things up if you are unable to avoid it.
The film gets a decent anamprphic transfer and plain old mono sound.
Zero on the extras front.
Phantoms (1998) Region 2
Another Koontz book gets the movie treatment but at least this one has a decent cast. We may have seen the “everyone in the town’s gone missing” thing before yet, while this may not be original, the first half of Joe Chappelle’s film is at least effective, creating a nice creepy atmosphere that has you wondering what the hell is going on. It only starts to fall apart when it starts to reveal its secrets.
Sisters Lisa (Rose McGowan) and Jennifer (Joanna Going) arrive in Snowfield, California to discover most of the residents missing and the rest dead. While looking around town the bump into Sheriff Bryce Hammond and two of his deputies. Hammond is played by Ben Affleck, who appears far too young to be an ex-FBI agent turned small town peace officer. Liev Schreiber gets to act nuts as Deputy Stu Wargle and you get the impression Wargle didn’t have both oars in the water even before things went crazy so it’s not much of a surprise that the unseen enemy uses him to work through.
As I said, this is all enjoyable enough but things begin to fall apart with the introduction of Peter O’Toole as a scientist who’s the only one who knows what’s going on. He arrives in town with the military and starts spouting about “ancient evil” and the like. It’s clear his character is only there to explain what they are up against while the military are there just to provide more victims. It’s a thankless role and one not worthy of an actor of O’Toole’s stature. Still he does his best with what he’s got, delivering lines like “But this thing is what wiped out the dinosaurs! Which were pretty tough fucking customers!” with tongue firmly in cheek.
Not a bad film but one that leaves you with the feeling it could have been so much more had it not stayed so slavishly close to its source material.
Being a film that takes place mostly at night a good transfer is essential and thankfully gets it, with dark scenes not lacking in detail. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio adds to the atmosphere, with placement used to great effect during the more confined scenes.
Once again no extras.
Next Week: My Bloody Valantine and Valentine
Is War, Inc. a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank? March 23, 2007Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves, Film News , 6 comments
Is John Cusack’s new film War, Inc. a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank? There seems to be very little information about the film online but what there is leads me to think this could be a follow-up to the 1997 cult favourite.
IMDb has this to say about the plot –
“…is set in the future, when the desert country of Turagistan is torn by a riot after a private corporation, owned by the former US president, has taken over the whole state. John Cusack plays the role of a hit man, who suppresses his emotions by gobbling down on hot sauce and is hired by the corporation’s head to kill the CEO of their competitors. Everything changes when the ruthless killer finds himself head-over-heels in love with a sexy reporter.”
This sounds more than a little stupid (a spicy sauce guzzling assassin!) but at least one thing seems certain – Cusack is playing a hit man just as he did in Grosse Pointe Blank.
And there’s more –
Cusack wrote the script for Grosse Pointe Blank something he’s only done with two other films – High Fidelity and War, Inc. Two out of three films about hit men or should that be a hit man? IMDb lists no character name for Cusack in the film.
John’s sister Joan appeared in Grosse Pointe Blank as his secretary. She’s back in War, Inc but again there is no character name listed.
The film is also known by the working title Brand Hauser: Stuff Happens which is frankly too awful to be real.
Not convinced? Check out this pic of Cusack with co-star Hillary Duff –
Looks a lot like Martin Q. Blank to me but then again maybe John just thinks all hit men wear black suits.
I’m probably way off base with all this but I hope I’m not. Apart from the fact I’d enjoy seeing Martin Q. Blank again, it’s a much cooler name than Brand Hauser. All will be revealed when the film is released later this year.
DVD Review: Head Trauma (Region 1) March 21, 2007Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , 1 comment so far
While Hollywood plays it safe with a diet of remakes, re-imaginings and rehashes of classic horror movies it’s down to independent filmmakers to give horror fans what they really want – original, thought-provoking films that stay with you long after the credits have ended. Lance Weiler’s second feature Head Trauma is just such a beast.
The basics are simple enough. After a 20-year absence, George Walker returns to his late grandmother’s home in the hope of saving the condemned building. Late one night he finds an intruder in the house. The ensuing struggle leads to George taking a blow to the head, and that’s when the fun starts.
George begins to experience dreams full of nightmarish imagery, including a mysterious hooded figure. Soon the lines between reality and imagination start to blur as the dreams bleed through into his waking world.
To go into more detail about the plot would be to do the film a disservice; one of its pleasures is the way the story slowly unfolds, giving us bits of information that we have to unravel in much the same way George does. Almost the entire film is told from George’s perspective and this gives the viewer a front row seat as George’s psyche becomes increasingly fractured.
While George Walker is the centre of the movie, he has two important relationships that help add depth both to his character and the film as a whole. Julian Thompson is a young African American who gets enlisted to help him clean up the house and while he at first resents it, he gradually builds up a relationship with George that allows the viewer some insight into what the man was like before he disappeared 20 years before.
Equally important although having far less screen time, is Mary Sherman, an old flame from George’s past. It’s clear from his scenes with Mary that George is trying to save more than just his grandmother’s house; he’s also trying to turn the clock back on their relationship. But, like the Moody Blues said “You can never go home” and Mary’s ultimate rejection acts as a sort of catalyst for the film’s climax.
These three central performances are the cornerstones of the film and thankfully all the actors acquit themselves well. Jamil A.C. Mangan as Julian appears relaxed on camera, giving his scenes a natural feel, most notably when he bonds with George. Equally good is Mary Monahan as Walker’s old girlfriend, a character who goes from being initially welcoming when George arrives back in town to severing relations when it becomes clear just how unbalanced he is becoming.
Such is the nature of the film that it stands or falls on the strength of its central performance. Vince Mola clearly relishes his role, immersing himself in true method actor fashion. To see just how much of a transformation he underwent for the part, just check out the interview with the guy in the DVD’s extra features; it’s not just a physical transformation but a mental one as well, with Mola in real life being extremely animated and enthusiastic — the opposite of George Walker.
Still, good as the performances are, the real star here is Lance Weiler. With The Last Broadcast he created an excellent pseudo-documentary that not only preceded the similarly themed Blair Witch Project but surpassed it in every way. This time he shows he can handle a regular narrative structure, hooking the viewer from the get-go and immersing them in Walker’s hallucinatory world.
It’s with George’s nightmares that Weiler gets to show how inventive he can be on a minuscule budget. These sequences have much in common with Japanese horror cinema and show how to use other films as a springboard for your own ideas in a way Hollywood could never imagine with its Ring and Grudge remakes. The movie contains at least one scene as effective as anything you’ll see in a modern horror film and one can only imagine what Weiler could do with a bigger budget.
Enhancing the film’s sense of dread is the score by Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey. Music and sound effects blend perfectly to create an oppressive atmosphere that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Sound is often underused by the genre but all concerned here clearly realise its importance and the sound design is one of the most impressive I’ve heard on a DVD.
The film may cover similar ground to such films as Polanski’s Repulsion and even Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer but whereas those films offered no hope for the central protagonist, Weiler’s is far less bleak, giving us at least some hope of redemption for George.
If all you’re looking for is a high body count you’d better look elsewhere; this isn’t your usual dumb genre movie. It requires the audience to have a brain and rewards them for using it, yet doesn’t skimp on the scares.
I can’t wait to see what Mr Weiler comes up with next.
While sadly not anamorphic, the film’s transfer is pretty good given the low budget nature of the project; just don’t expect it to look like a Hollywood blockbuster.
On the audio front the film really delivers. You get the choice of a 2.0 and a 5.1 soundtrack. If you have the right set-up the 5.1 track won’t disappoint as it makes use of all the speakers to really enhance the viewing experience, showing just what can be achieved even with limited resources.
Several featurettes cover everything from blowing up a car (more complex than you might think on a film of this scale) to the scoring of the film. They’re informative if a little brief, with the longest only running about ten minutes.
The DVD’s best extra is a director’s commentary. Lance Weiler provides some background information on the film’s themes and production that will be of particular interest to any aspiring filmmakers. Lance is an engaging talker and rarely lets up for the film’s entire running time; there’s little dead air here. He’s clearly proud of the finished film and he’s got every right to be.
Crazy Like a Foxx March 19, 2007Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , add a comment
Five films featuring Jamie Foxx get added to the DVD Viewing Journal.
An enjoyable, if lightweight, film about con artists that thinks it’s smarter than it really is. Jamie Foxx isn’t the star here merely support, although he has about as much screen time (and probably more lines) than headliner Sylvester Stallone. The cast all have fun with their shady characters, Gabriel Byrne and Thandie Newton make the most of their parts as does Stuart Townsend as the cardsharp. The film tries to be a modern-day Cincinnati Kid but good as he is Townsend is no McQueen (not to mention Stallone being a poor sub for the great Edward G.) and the whole thing has a “seen it all before” quality to it. Still at little over 90 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s always nice to see old pros Hal Holbrook and Bo Hopkins.
Jamie Foxx stars in the true story of reformed gang-banger Stan “Tookie” Williams. This is a TV movie and, while the story it’s based on may be worthy, the film itself is just plain dull. Foxx is good as the gangster preaching peace from his death row cell but the problem is nothing much happens.
This is a BAD movie, it’s big, it’s dumb and it’s proud of it. It’s Top Gun with the HAL9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey replacing Goose as the wingman and Jessica Biel standing in for Val Kilmer as the love interest. Josh Lucas is insufferably smug as the head pilot and Jamie Foxx is your stereotypical loud black guy. Jessica Biel’s character is as one dimensional as the rest of the cast but at least when her plane crashes we get a bit of variety as Behind Enemy Lines is added to the mix. The special effects are good but without a decent story to hang them on it’s all wasted. This failed to set the box office on fire and it should come as no surprise that director Rob Cohen is currently attached to Mummy 3. He turned down sequels to two of his own films (The Fast and the Furious, xXx) but now he’s making the third entry in someone else’s franchise, that’s gotta hurt.
This is less the horror of war and more the boredom and discomfort of it. The young cast make a good impression with Peter Sarsgaard and Lucas Black being standouts. Sarsgaard reminded me of a young John Malkovich. Jamie Foxx as the veteran soldier teaching the new recruits how to survive is superb but it’s Jake Gyllenhaal whose job it is to carry the film and he does it with an assurance that belies his years. Chris Cooper’s role as Lt. Col. Kazinski is little more than a cameo but he steals every scene he’s in. One of the best war films for years, this is a Full Metal Jacket for the Gulf War.
Michael Mann’s big screen version of his old TV show is a bit of a letdown. It tells the sort of story the series could do in a 45min episode and drags it out to over two hours. It also wastes its two talented stars, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, more interested in showing them naked in the shower (not together, don’t worry Crockett and Tubbs haven’t gone gay) than inside their characters heads. When the action does get going it’s pretty good but coming from the man who made Heat, pretty good just doesn’t cut it.Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment
Spiders (2000) Region 2
When you’re dealing with giant spider movies you can be pretty sure you’re in for some cheese, the question is will it be tasty cheddar or stinky Gorgonzola. Well in the case of Spiders it’s definitely the latter.
What we have here is an attempt to merge Alien with Arachnophobia, with a secret government experiment to combine extraterrestrial and spider DNA. A dim-witted reporter and her equally intellectually challenged crew stumble on to the scheme and end up trapped in a secret base with the hybrid spider.
The DVD sleeve says this is from the FX team who created From Dusk Till Dawn, Spawn and Wishmaster. That may be so but here they are responsible for some of the worst CGI effects I’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough when the film stays in the confined space of the base but when things head outside for the over the top climax with a spider of King Kong sized proportions, it’s so bad it’s not even funny.
Ineptly directed by Gary Jones, a man whose career highlight was working on the Xena and Hercules TV series, this was a real chore to sit through. Lead actress Lana Parrilla is a familiar face having had recurring roles in 24, NYPD Blue and Boomtown but here, with everything working against her, she’s not up to the task of saving a very bad movie, still even Sigourney Weaver couldn’t have salvaged this one.
Hard as it may be to believe they actually made a sequel to this abomination - Spiders II: Breeding Ground. Needless to say I’ll be avoiding that one like…well like a spider.
The film was shot in 1.85:1 but is presented here in a 4:3 transfer, perhaps this cropping of the image has turned a classic into a turkey but somehow I doubt it. The audio is stereo and clear enough for you to hear every badly written word of dialogue.
The only extra is a trailer.
Arachnid (2001) Region 2
Several rungs up the ladder from Spiders but still firmly in B Movie territory, this alters the mix replacing Alien with Predator as a group of intrepid scientists and soldiers head for an isolated island to find out what’s been killing the natives.
Jack Sholder made the extremely enjoyable low budget SF movie The Hidden and while this comes nowhere near that’s level of competence he knows how to generate some tension. What lets this down most is a badly written script with some poorly realised characters. There is also an ill conceived plot twist that ties one of the characters to a plane that went down on the island years before.
The effects are pretty poor, although compared to Spiders they’re the height of realism. This time it’s the special effects crew of Species and The Abyss doing the business. Those films showed what they could do when a ton of Hollywood money was thrown at the film, here we see what they can do on a shoestring budget and they deserve an A for effort even if the finished product is a little lacking.
The cast is the usual bunch of nobodies that you’ve never heard of and probably never will. Given a script that requires the characters to act in the most ridiculous manner it’s not fair to blame the actors too much and no one stands out as particularly bad. Or particularly good either.
Produced in Spain by Re-Animator’s Brian Yuzna this must rank as one of the low points of his career as it must for Jack Shoulder who never fulfilled the promise of The Hidden.
The film gets a decent 1.85:1 transfer on DVD. The picture quality is even good in the night scenes, of which there are a lot. The Dolby Surround soundtrack gets the job done, although a 5.1 track could have added a lot to the atmosphere.
Next Week: Watchers and Phantoms
The Weekend Horror Double Bill: Haunted Houses March 12, 2007Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment
The Legend of Hell House (1973) Region 2
This is similar in structure to Rober Wise’s The Haunting with a group of paranormal investigators spending a few days in a haunted house and like that film was based on a novel, in this case Richard Matheson’s Hell House. The films also share similar plots with the groups gradual deterioration as the oppressive atmosphere of the house weighs on them evident in both films. Hell House is the less subtle of the two films, there’s nothing here to compare with the classic ‘holding hands in the dark’ scene in Wise’s classic.
What it does have going for it is a powerful sense of dread generated by the inventive direction of John Hough, who uses odd angles and reflections to keep the viewer off balance. Hough was also responsible for Hammer’s underrated Twins of Evil but sadly most of his work was in TV.
Adding to that oppressive atmosphere is an exceptional score by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire both of whom worked on the BBC’s Doctor Who in the early years of that show. Here they mix electronic sounds with more conventional instrumentation to great effect.
As for the actors all give decent performances with Roddy McDowall relishing the chance to take a more central role as Benjamin Franklin Fischer the only survivor of a previous expedition. I’ve always been a fan of McDowall and this is one of his best parts (at least out of ape make-up) and he’s clearly having a ball.
The film degenerates to silliness towards the end with a twist that falls flat, yet it still deserves a place among the best haunted house movies.
The films transfer to DVD could be better. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ration the film looks soft and lacking in detail, although this could be due, in part, to the low budget nature of the production. The sound is 2.0 Surround but there is little activity in the rear speakers and they may as well have used the original mono.
Extras consist of only a trailer.
The Haunting of Hell House (1999) Region 2
No relation to Legend, this takes Henry James classic story as its source. Produced by the king of low budget horror, Roger Corman, this is a lesson in how not to make a haunted house movie. Mitch Marcus direction is flat and fails to generate even a little atmosphere.
Where as Legend of Hell House had a score that added immensely to the tension the music here removes whatever chance there might have been of any scares. Sometimes silence is far more effective than music and this is something composer Ivan Koutikov and the director fail to grasp, filling every moment with a score that is so clichéd it would have seemed dated in one of Corman’s 60’s Poe films.
The story deals with two ghosts, one real one imagined. Michael York plays Professor Ambrose whose daughter (played by Claudia Christian) he believes is haunting him. Andrew Bowen is the other hauntee who seeks out York for advice. He believes himself haunted by his girlfriend who died after undergoing a backstreet abortion.
Michael York is really slumming it here but he tries his best as does Claudia Christian unfortunately they can’t surmount the films glaring faults. This is a movie that simply fails to deliver as a horror movie; it’s more likely to send you to sleep than keep you awake all night.
Relying on the old Corman standby of the cheap exploding house for it’s big finish this is a film bereft of original ideas and is best avoided.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks as cheap as it no doubt is, with a picture that looks soft. The sound comes in three varieties – Stereo 2.0 , 5.1 and DTS, the latter two completely superfluous.
Extras are limited to a trailer, biographies for York and Christian and film notes.
Next Week: Spiders and Arachnid.Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment
The House of Exorcism (1975) Region 2
I’ve never seen Maio Bava’s Lisa and The Devil but from the original footage used in this bastardised version it looks like a pretty standard giallo murder mystery. This re-edited version, featuring new footage shot by the producer Alfredo Leone to cash in on the success of The Exorcist, is another animal altogether.
The structure of the film has been completely altered so that Bava’s footage is used in flashback to reveal what happened to Lisa Reiner (Elke Sommer) that resulted in her hospitalisation and the subsequent involvement of a priest played by Robert Alda. This restructuring results in the film making virtually no narrative sense.
Bava was an inventive filmmaker who could do a lot with a minuscule budget, creating such stylish features as Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires, the latter an obvious influence on Ridley Scott’s Alien. Sadly here his style is so diluted as to be all but unwatchable.
The performances are nothing to shout about either. Elke Sommer is there primarily to look pretty while Telly Savalas plays the lollypop sucking butler (or is he the devil?) as if he were Kojak.
So does the film have anything to recommend it? Well yes, sort of. If features some hysterical exorcism scenes that are far funnier than anything featured in The Exorcist spoof Repossessed starring Leslie Nielsen.
The DVD presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but it’s non-anamorphic and looks awful, particularly in darker scenes, of which there are a lot. The sound is little better with the choice of either English or French mono that shows it’s age.
The only extra consists of some notes on the films chequered past but only in French (understandable as this is a French DVD).
Possessed (2000) Region 2
Based on the true story that inspired The Exorcist this sees former Bond Timothy Dalton as a priest haunted by his experiences during World War ll.
When the parents of a young boy turn to the church as a last resort to help their troubled child, its Father Willam Bowden (Dalton) who gets assigned the case and ultimately sanctioned to perform the exorcism by Archbishop Hume (Christopher Plummer).
Dalton gives a performance far better than this rather dull TV movie deserves, showing us the tortured soul of this man of god who’s seen too much of mankind at its worst. He’s not your regular priest either, more that happy to take a swing at the police when they attempt to arrest some peaceful black protesters and not averse to using a bit of foul language.
As for the film, it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be historical drama or horror film and in the end succeeds as neither. The acting is for the most part competent though Jonathan Malen, as the possessed kid, is no Linda Blair and his performance kills any chance the film has at any scares. In truth it verges on unintentional hilarity at times, most memorably in the runaway school desk scene, which sees Malen take out several students and the teacher when his desk lurches around the classroom with him hiding under it.
Without Timothy Dalton there would be no point in watching this and even with him your time would be better served re-watching the film the real life events inspired.
The aspect ratio of the film on DVD is 4:3 and while the transfer is nothing to write home about it does a decent job of presenting the film. The sound is 2.0 Dolby Stereo and is clear if unspectacular.
Extras consist of cast biographies and a trailer.
Next week: The Legend of Hell House and The Haunting of Hell House.
Paul Walker: Actor or Timber? March 3, 2007Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , 1 comment so far
Paul Walker has a reputation as a actor so wooden that the only part he’d be at home playing would be Pinocchio. Still, with a director like Clint Eastwood using him in Flags of out Fathers I figured it was time to investigate further.
The Americans stick it to the English once again; no doubt this was the appeal to Billy Connelly, what self respecting Scotsman could resist a film that portrays the English as bad guys and has a Scot help the French to victory? This film itself is a silly time travel tale that makes little sense (not uncommon in time travel movies) and thanks to some lacklustre action scenes gives the viewer far too much time to think. Paul Walker is poor as Connelly’s son but he’s not alone with the only decent performance coming from Anna Friel as a French noblewoman. Scriptwriter Jeff Maguire must take much of the blame with the actors given some awful dialogue to deliver and Richard Donner shows that even great directors are capable of cooking up some poultry given the right ingredients.
Into The Blue
We’ve seen this all before, just substitute Paul Walker for Nick Nolte and Jessica Alba for Jacqueline Bisset and you’ve got The Deep. The thing is that film wasn’t even that good and this does nothing to improve on it. There’s some nice underwater cinematography and the site of Alba in skimpy outfits is not displeasing (Walker also wears very little to keep the ladies happy) but neither of the leads stretches there acting abilities. Of the two Hollywood offspring in support – Scott Caan and Josh Brolin – it’s Brolin Jr who fares the best. While his screen time is limited he makes the most of his villainous role while Caan just annoys as Walker’s old school buddy. The film has more than one reference to Jaws and you’d get far more enjoyment from rewatching that classic than this vapid rehash.
A throwback to the old style thrillers of the late seventies/early eighties that no one seems to make anymore. Full to the brim with violence, bad language and gratuitous nudity this is so un-pc you have to love it for that alone. Add to that good performances from Walker (yes you read that right) and Vera (The Departed) Farmiga as his long suffering wife and a plot that takes some unexpected (though in hindsight logical) twists and you get almost two hours of guilty pleasure. The bizarre paedophile sequence may be a touch Tarantinoespue but it still works and it gives Farmiga her best moment in the film. Plus it references John Wayne’s The Cowboys, what more could you want?
I love dog movies; I think it must be some kind of inherited trait that I get from my Dad. So a film about eight sled dogs trapped in the Antarctic was almost guaranteed to please. The big surprise though is how good the human cast are – Bruce Greenwood and Jason Biggs both acquit themselves well but it’s Walker who is the real surprise. Most of the film deals with two separate stories, the dogs trying to survive on there own and Walker trying to raise funds for a rescue trip no one is willing to make. For the film to work you really need to believe in the bond between man and dog and in a relatively short space of time at the beginning of the film Walker manages to convey his characters deep affection for these working dogs. Thanks to director Frank Marshall the film has more of an edge than you’d expect from a Disney film, yet it’s still very much family fare. I’d love to see Nankyoku monogatari the Japanese film this is based on, hopefully someone will put this out on DVD soon.