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Movie Review: V/H/S/2

V/H/S was an interesting, albeit flawed, horror movie anthology. It featured six short films, all of which were found footage with an overarching frame. There were one or two strong entries, but, for the most part, they were average horror stories that didn’t really make full use of the found footage genre.

Still, I have a soft spot for found footage. But, like all horror, it must abide by very specific rules in order to be scary. Found footage is about convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real. It’s not a slasher film or a monster movie, it’s something that really happened and we somehow stumbled across this missing tape. To that end, any found footage horror film must follow these rules:

1. No big name actors or people you’d recognize. It pulls you out of the narrative the very moment you see Robert Englund or Kane Hodder onscreen

2. No digital effects. Unless it’s used in a very minor way to enhance a practical effect, digital effects are immediately obvious. No matter how good they are, no matter how real they appear to be, you still say to yourself, “Oh, that’s some cool CGI.” and it’s ruined.

3. The more supernatural or sci-fi or unrealistic the plot is, the harder it will be to keep the audience invested in the idea that the movie really took place in our world and we’re just viewing a dark and strange corner of it. That’s not to say that they must avoid the supernatural at all costs, just that it’s harder to pull off.

With all of this said, they’re just about to release the sequel to V/H/S, creatively titled V/H/S/2. Let’s see how it fairs by my draconian rules.

Like in the first movie, there is a framing story. Two private detectives are on trying to track down a missing college student. They break into his house and come across a familiar set-up for anyone who has seen the first movie.

TVs

 

When breaking and entering into someone’s house and confronted with dozens of TVs that were on when you arrived, there is really only one thing that you can do….

InfrontofTVYou start watching the tapes.

Instead of the six shorter vignettes that were in the first V/H/S, the sequel only features four stories this time, which is a shame. I preferred the shorter, quicker films of the original film. No matter. Away we go.

Tape 1

Our protagonist has had his damaged eye replaced with a bad-ass looking cybernetic eye that works just as well as any other eye, but the doctor warns that there may be…glitches (ominous foreshadowing). Everything that the character sees will be recorded. What’s odd is that his eye also records sound which…doesn’t make a lot of sense. Possibly there’s an upgrade package for cybernetic eyeballs that lets them capture sound as well.

CameraEyeAfter seeing a couple of bloody people roaming around his apartment he freaks out, meets someone with similar problems and all hell breaks loose in rather rapid fashion. All told, it’s nothing special, but still entertaining. A couple of jump scares, twitchy acting and some gruesome scenes and then it’s all over. All told, this ranked dead middle for me out of the four shorts.

It did win a lot of points by not pandering too much to the audience. Through some context clues, you realize why the guy is being haunted. It’s not extremely subtle, but they never once say it out loud, which is impressive in this day and age where every motivation apparently needs to be loudly explained with a couple of exclamation points to boot.

Tape 2

This one, this was my favorite one. It’s about zombies, which made me groan and nearly turn it off, but then it turns into a zombie movie that I had never seen before.

It’s a zombie movie from the point of view of the zombie.

It’s one of the few entries that could only have been done effectively as found footage and makes good use of the genre. Tere’s not much else to say about it since the concept really says it all.

Great, bloody, gory and my favorite out of all the shorts in V/H/S or V/H/S/2.

Tape 3

Right after the cozy little nastiness that was Tape 2, we hit the worst of the four. This one breaks pretty much all of the rules I laid out, except for the first one. It’s about a cult in Indonesia that’s being investigated by some young people with cameras.

And there are subtitles. In a found footage movie, there are subtitles. While these can be explained away, it stills pulled me right out the narrative and wrecked any chance of me immersing myself in the thing.

There is also some pretty bad and obvious CGI. It’s not even always good CGI. Even if this had just been run as a regular old horror movie, it wouldn’t have been very scary and was wracked with spooky cult cliches.

Except for this guy:

CreepiestDudeEverThis guy creeped me right the fuck out.

Tape 4

While their parents are out of town, a brother and sister prank each other mercilessly while recording the results and then they’re attacked by….somethings.

This one, like the first, is average. There are some creepy moments and great visuals. There is CGI, but it’s better done than in the third video. It’s very frantic and hectic and blazes through.

In a lot of ways, I think it most accurately reflects what it would be like to suffer this kind of attack. It was pure chaos, lights and sounds flashing and blaring out in a confusing cacophony. It’s good, basic horror except there’s a crying dog throughout most of it and I don’t like dogs being hurt, so I was just sad instead of scared.

F–

Summary

All in all, I think V/H/S/2 suffers by having fewer shorts than its predecessor. V/H/S had one or two clunkers, but, for the most part, it was pretty entertaining and if you didn’t enjoy one short, it would be over soon. V/H/S/2, on the other hand, limits itself. The Cult Story just never seemed to end and went on interminably merely because I wasn’t digging the story. By the time it had ended, I had checked out mentally. More films and shorter films, I think, is the way to go with this style of filmmaking.

In the end, V/H/S/2 was a disappointing follow-up. I wanted more variety and more stories and more chances to delve into a subgenre I love.

I give it Two Tracking Errors, One Rewind Snarl and A Betamax.

V/H/S/2 comes out in theaters on July 12, but is available for rental now through various providers, like Amazon.

-D-

 

 

 

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Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life and I’ve tagged along with the franchise through good times (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek First Contact ) and troubled times (Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek Insurrection). When I was kid, I loved the original series, but I love the movies more and watched Wrath of Khan so many times that I could (and, embarrassingly, still can) recite the lines along with the actors.

When they announced they were re-booting the series back in 2009 with an all new cast playing Kirk, McCoy, Spock, et all, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, nothing they did could hurt the franchise worse than anything Rick Berman did. Star Trek came out and everybody loved it and it made a ton of money and, most impressively, it made Star Trek cool.

When the sequel was announced I was more than cautiously optimistic and bounced around like a loon waiting for it to come out. To the credit of the marketing team, the trailers they released showed almost nothing of the plot. I knew next to nothing about what to expect going in. Except explosions.

And lens flares.

Star Trek Into Darkness  picks up pretty much where the first left off, with Kirk (Chris Pine) the Captain of the Enterprise and still as reckless and brash as he was in the last movie. Spock (Zachary Quinto) still doesn’t get human emotions. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is still dating Spock. And so on.

One of the reasons why the first movie was so successful with both old and new fans is that they jettisoned decades of cumbersome backstory in order to tell new stories wit established characters, which Into Darkness continues to do. Everyone still feels very familiar, but you don’t need to have seen Spectre of the Gun to understand the multiple layers of Chekhov’s character. The classic characters have been rebuilt on the same foundations, but with enough tweaks and modifications to keep them compelling and interesting.

In fact, the plot of this movie builds upon plots of some older episodes and reintroduces a few new/old characters as well as aspects of Starfleet like Section 31, more so than Star TrekInto Darkness has a stronger villain, a more compelling plot and a tighter grasp of the characters that comes from everyone involved being more comfortable.

It’s a visually brilliant movie right from the beginning  where Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) run through a vivid red alien jungle chased by striking, white aliens while Spock rappels into an active volcano from a shuttle. And, if you couldn’t tell from that preceding sentence, the action is just as lively as it was in the first movie. There are ships exploding and fight scenes and disintegrations and cool warp effects. It’s a shiny, pretty movie and one that does the genre credit.

Also, spoilers: Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly who you think he is and he’s wonderful and I want to hug him and hold him and never let him go.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness is a funny, explosive and intense entry in the Trek series and J.J. Abrams once again proves that he was the right person for the job and it makes me want to see, more than ever, how he handles the Star Wars series.

I give it a Baker’s Dozen of bowl cuts and pointy ears.

-D-

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Movie Review: Evil Dead (Remake)

Last night, I went to see the Evil Dead remake and I was less than impressed.

For those that don’t know, the original The Evil Dead is a horror cult classic that exists in its own realm of awesome. It is a frantic, kinetic, slapstick gore-tastic explosion of excess. The sequels that followed are less innovative, but far more fun and added more to the sub-layers of pop culture than the first. The first was a horror movie that was as much informed by the Three Stooges as it was by George Romero and drive-in horror flicks.

The remake was, in a lot of ways, going to fail before it even got out of the gate. You cannot, absolutely cannot, remake the magic that makes a cult movie a cult movie. And nor do you want to. A cult movie is popular with only a small portion of the movie-going audience, hence the name. The studio is not going to go out of their way to try and please a very cranky, persnickety cluster of fans.

So the remake was far less frantic, more reserved and more by-the-numbers, more tailored for the average Friday night ticket holder. It followed closely along in the footsteps of the original movie and every “cabin in the woods” formula movie that followed.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to consider the idea that the remake was, in a sly way, tapping into the same ideas that the first The Evil Dead did. It was violent. Ridiculously so. Almost Black Knight violent. It even made me wince once or thrice. Much in the way the first The Evil Dead reveled in the gooshy red stuff, the remake over-indulged as well, but catered to an audience that has been emotionally stunted on a steady diet of Saw and Hostel movies.

And as it progressed, Evil Dead became steadily more over the top and more absurd. At the time, when I saw duct tape routinely used as the cure-all for injuries, including, but not limited to, a severed arm, I thought that there was a very desperate or very ignorant screenwriter at play. But now, in retrospect, I think there were just screenwriters at play, trying to tread a very careful line between the goofy, over-the-top slapstick violence of every horror movie from the 80’s and the grim, ultra real, ultra gritty torture horror that has come to, disturbingly, dominate the market in the last ten years.

I hesitate to call Evil Dead a good movie, but I am willing to give it more credit than I initially gave it. If you’re a fan of the original or of 80’s horror in general (Hello Re-Aimator fans), give it a spin, keep an open mind and see it as an amalgam of the now and then.

I give it one, over-amorous tree.

-D-

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Saturday Night Movie Review: Nazis at the Center of the Earth

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to start reviewing movies that I believe are perfect to watch while drinking beer and hanging out with friends. Or, if you’re me, drinking a warm bloody mary while you’re by yourself. They’re the movies that are so bad they’re funny, over-the-top violence and acting so wooden you could build a table out of it.

All the movies I review will be readily available online, either through Netflix Instant or Amazon Prime or one of the many other (legal) streaming sites.

This week: Nazis at the Center of the Earth

Now, I have a couple of criteria when it comes to movies of this caliber. They must be delightfully, whimsically stupid. There must be plenty of opportunities where everyone can jump in and throw out a random one liner.

For example, right off the bat, the title of this movie is ripe with stupid and then the plot just keeps delivering.

We follow the tale of a group of intrepid arctic scientists who stumble across a secret, underground Nazi base: by accidentally drilling into it.They start to drill into the ice, the drill screeches to a halt and they brush an inch of snow off of a giant swastika. Because when you’re trying to get a core sample using extremely expensive equipment, you don’t test the ground in any way, shape or form to make sure you’re not drilling into solid rock or a Nazi bunker.

NazisCenter1

As the movie progresses it turns out that the Nazis have a sinister plan (which is not surprising, given the whole “being Nazis thing”) and they kidnap the entire team, dragging them into their subterranean layer where it is revealed that they are also zombies.

NazisCenter2

 

To recap: The villains in this movies are Nazi zombies that live in a underground military base under the Antarctic led by an immortal Doctor Mengele. Oh, and Jake Busey is a scientist, which is humorous in and of itself since the only other thing I’ve ever seen him play is a psychopath who eats a baseball bat in Identity. All in all, you have the perfect recipe for one of the stupidest movies to slither onto the screen since Troll 2.

But here comes the problem. About halfway through the movie, things get nasty. It gets mean spirited and unpleasant and vicious in a way that stops being funny and more makes you feel like you participated in something that you did not want to participate in. It stops being fun to watch and turns into something you’d turn off and walk away from.

Which is a shame, because this is the same movie with a terrible CGI UFO…

NazisCenter3

 

…and that’s not even the stupidest thing you will come across in this movie. That would be terrible CGI robot Hitler.

But I can’t 100% recommend this movie unless you’re the kind of person that found Human Centipede funny. Otherwise, you’ll get to that middle bit and completely shut-down.

If you’re looking for something fun all the way through, avoid this. I can see too many people getting to the shower scene and reaching for the remote in a hurry.

I give this Five “Are you really trying to sell Jake Busey as a scientist?”s and Two Squinchy Gut Roilers.

I’m also a little disappointed that I misrolled two times in a row and I’ve only done this segment twice. Next week, I guarantee that I’ll find you something awesome to watch.

Guaranteed.

-D-

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Movie Review: Antichrist (Part 2)

I finished watching Antichrist and, as promised, here’s the second and last part of my review.

After I finished watching it, I needed a hug. It’s an emotionally draining movie; filled with disturbing images and grotesque elements. It depicted vile things and at the end, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had seen. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and I doubt I’ll ever be able to recommend it to anyone.

In spite of that and because of that, I’m more than willing to say that this is one of the best horror movies to be made in the last fifteen years. It went to the very limited of my comfort zones and stayed there for the duration of the movie. At no point was I ever relaxed or settling back down. It ratcheted up the tension and kept it here and didn’t allow for a moment of respite.

It’s  moments like this that I long for when I watch horror movies. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be on edge. I want to be swept up in a tide of relentless energy.

It’s movies like Antichrist that give me hope that the genre will not be completely lost in a sea of senseless sequels and gratuitous violence. There is hope that people can go to the movies and experience true fear. Because if we cannot be scared in a theater, that leaves us precious few options.

-D-

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Movie Review: Prometheus

When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.

It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.

So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.

And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.

And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.

Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.

And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.

If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.

-D

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Movie Review: Laid to Rest

Article first published as Movie Review: Laid to Rest on Blogcritics.

A young woman (Bobbie Sue Luther) wakes up inside of a coffin with no recollection of who she is or how she got there and she is, perhaps understandably, a little freaked out about the whole thing. After breaking free, she ends up on the run from the lunatic who put her there. It’s a screamy, amnesiac against a dangerous madman wearing a chrome skull mask and it’s no holds barred.

There are a few things to recommend Laid to Rest, although it is ultimately a subpar horror flick. For every obnoxious, cardboard cutout character, there’s someone who I actually cared about. Tucker (Kevin Gage) felt like a human being and I was actually concerned about his well being. Steven (Sean Whalen) was a quirky nerd whose bizarre idiosyncrasies weren’t overwhelming or obnoxious. I ended up liking them a fair amount, making it nerve-wracking when they were put in danger.

Of course, to balance this out, the script called for them to do mind numbingly dumb things that made me want to slap the stupid out of the movie. Tucker spends a lot of time telling everyone they need to stick together and then wanders off on a whim to split up the group. There was also the character who pointed a gun at the killer and then allowed the killer to walk up to him and shoot him with his own gun. Every brain-bendingly stupid action felt like the director was just padding out the film, adding precious minutes to the run time.

Speaking of the killer, he was strangely lackluster for a guy wearing a metal skull mask. Beyond the fact that he liked his camcorder and was on the sadistic side, there’s not much going for him. He had no real hook or personality. He was just the Killer of the Week, another loony in a mask to cover the camera in blood ‘n’ guts. And lord, were there blood ‘n’ guts.

This was probably one of the more gruesome movies I’ve seen in a while, with scenes that genuinely shocked me with how brutal they were. Generally speaking, I don’t need to see people putting their guts back where they belong. Less show, more tell when it comes to eviscerations. If you’re a fan of goo, then you’re in the right place. There’s a lot to see and it’s extremely well done, with faces, heads, and limbs a’flying every which-a-way.

Even more off-putting than the gore, was the first ten minutes, where we’re treated to a schizophrenic’s view of reality. The amount of edits and jump cuts is jarring and there are spaces of time where I was unable to piece together what happened. Someone gets stabbed in the eye, but god only knows how that happened.

For all that, Laid to Rest was not as bad as I was expecting. Decent acting, engaging characters and a ruthless, viscious killer hunting those characters kept me engaged for the duration, but I won’t be thinking about it after I submit this review.

Dylan Charles

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