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Under the Skin – 8

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

 

Director – Jonathan Glazer

Cast – Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Adam Pearson, Jessica Mance, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Krystof Hádek, Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Earlier this year I learned that there would be a horror film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who lures men to their doom. If you ask me, that sounds like a kickass grindhouse film – I was dead wrong. The more I learned about the film the more it came off as an art house masterpiece with hints of influence from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regardless, with so many cool elements involved I had to give this a watch, and was pleased at the outcome. Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. It’s a horror, thriller, drama, and fantasy effort that makes for one of the most unique horror films this millennium.

The storyline is as simple as the first sentence of this review. Scarlett stars as an unnamed woman who removes the clothes from an unconscious woman and then embarks on an unmentioned mission to seduce random men. That is, of course, after the film’s immense opening sequence. I really cannot tell you what happens at the beginning of the film, but it is this sequence that makes me mention 2001: A Space Odyssey when I speak of this flick. The first word is not spoken until 13 minutes into the film, and I was very surprised to learn that much of the dialogue was unscripted. To get a realistic feel, most of the men that the woman meets are non-actors who had their conversations with the woman recorded and were then offered roles in the film. This is a bold move by writer/director Jonathan Glazer that worked out in his favor in the end. So, instead of an actual screenplay the film is written more as a blueprint, with the non-actors giving “true” performances as they were unaware that they were speaking to Scarlett Johansson, who was wearing a wig and makeup.

A very long first act gives us approximately an hour of the woman seeking men, both successfully and unsuccessfully, and disposing of them. The first kill appears at the 21-minute mark, and it will leave you bewildered as to what exactly happened. Do not worry though, the next kill, at 35 minutes, explains what happens to her unsuspecting victims…and it is truly haunting. For this being such an artsy film I was quite surprised at how effective the horror was. I can’t say that this will give me nightmares, but I was definitely left in shock over what I saw. The second act slows things down as she travels a bit and begins to find herself. At times it feels like she is curious to know what life is like as a human, but she is on a mission and we are made aware that those who sent her to Earth are covertly watching her. The third act gives us the woman’s first true conflict, which is short-lived and leads to a climax you will either love or hate.

 

Jonathan Glazer’s direction is what sells the film, and it was unexpected given his previous efforts, which are Birth and Massive Attack videos. His provides a visceral experience with long, drawn-out sequences that play on your senses with amazing visuals and a haunting score. Scarlett is great, and the execution of her character, from looks to mannerisms, surpasses her acting. This is not because her acting is poor, but because the performance is so basic. Glazer’s direction of the kills was quite out of this world, with the uneventful ones still captivating me thanks once again to the visuals. I mentioned earlier that there is at least one haunting scene, and its effectiveness is incredible. Glazer draws these scenes out to achieve the highest amount of tension possible, leaving you to squirm in your seat, eyes glued to the screen, and in complete submission to the film. I cannot say that happens often, and I give him props for that.

Overall, Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. If you are looking for a film to entertain a group of friends with then this is probably not for such an occasion. However, if an incredibly unique effort is what you seek, you have found it here.

Rating: 8/10

Almost Human – 6


Director – Joe Begos

Cast – Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers, Anthony Amaral III, Michael A. LoCicero

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I first learned of Almost Human while attending Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, TX during the first weekend of May 2014. I was hanging out with Travis of Horror Movies Uncut, who was working the IFC Films tent for the event. While listening to him spew his knowledge I kept seeing the Almost Human poster behind him, and when I asked him if I should give it a shot he said “HELL YES”. I completely forgot about this film after the convention, but now that it has hit the Netflix scene I gave it a shot and can see why he said I had to see it. Almost Human is incredibly simple and has more flaws than I hoped for, but it excels on the elements that matter most – the horror and gore.

Two years after he was abducted from his home in an amazing flash of blue light, Mark Fisher has returned, and a string of violent murders follow in his wake.

The film begins with “The following is based on events that took place in Patten, Maine.” and the date is October 13, 1987. The opening sequence is incredible and writer/director Joe Begos does very much while employing very little. Atmosphere and sound are everything, and there is an especially heavy emphasis on the sound during the film’s scary scenes, including the highly tense opening. Fast forward a few years (15 minutes of screen time) and Mark is found covered in goo in a nearby forest. Shortly after this the first deaths occur, and they give us a preview of the carnage to come. Begos’ story relies heavily on character play, bringing together Mark’s former best friend Seth and his former girlfriend Jen. The two have not talked since Mark’s disappearance, but with strange occurrences going on around town they are brought together until they run into Mark and the conflict grows exponentially. Begos’ use of these characters was fine, but what really disappointed me was how Mark was used. He is basically an alien drone with no personality and nothing to offer the film aside from some very awesome kills. Now don’t get me wrong – the kills are awesome, but even mute killers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees have personality. Thankfully, there are plenty of kills and they are written in a brutally mean fashion, so there’s that to make up for most of the story’s faults.

Begos’ direction was pretty good and I marveled at his excellent use of sound. From the sound of aliens outside a home to the jolting screams they use to deafen and incapacitate their victims, he plays on the viewer’s sense of sound to perfection. His atmosphere is good, giving us dark and gloomy cinematography that ironically matches the films mundane storyline. The actors involved were OK but none of them gave performances that stole the show, especially Josh Ethier as Mark. Begos excels greatly though at the horror, scares, and kill scenes. His kill scenes were so epic I would pause the film and rewind just to watch each slaughter again and again. His execution is very full-frontal and we watch someone have their face smashed in with a rock while another has their head blown away by a shotgun blast to the face. Live action gore is used for all of the kills and I believe we only see minimal CGI which is quite an accomplishment for a modern day horror film. Sure some elements could have been better, but as I mentioned earlier – Joe Begos focused on what mattered most and that is enough for me to leave smiling.

Overall, Almost Human gets a lot of things right due to its emphasis on kills and overall horror. The story is pretty bland and is doubtful to engage the majority of viewers, but with such amazing kills adorning the screen you may not care very much about that.

Rating: 6/10

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Terminal Invasion – 5


Director – Sean S. Cunningham

Cast – Bruce Campbell, Chase Masterson, C. David Johnson, Kedar Brown, Andrew Tarbet, Sarah Lafleur, Marcia Bennett, Chuck Byrn, Jason Jones, Stephen Joffe, Hannah Lochner, Dylan Bierk, Ian Downie

Release Year – 2002

Reviewed by John of the Dead

It was late, I was bored, and the movie starred Bruce Campbell, so how could I not watch what I was sure to be a horrible B-movie. I planned to fall asleep by the end of the first act, but much to my surprise I instead found myself actually interested in the film and watching it until its conclusion. Sure Terminal Invasion is a cheesy experience that I would not recommend to the multitude of genre fans, but if you need some late night cheese and enjoy seeing Bruce do his thing then you might find yourself as surprised as I was.

When aliens in human disguise take over a rural airport during a heavy snowstorm, the grounded passengers must determine who is not of this Earth and put their fate in the hands of Jack (Bruce Campbell), a wiseass prisoner in transport to death row.

Going into this film I had no idea that it came from the same filmmaking duo behind Deep Star Six – director Sean S. Cunningham, famous for Friday the 13th, and writer Lewis Abernathy. The story starts off well, leaving our protagonists in a nowhere to run scenario as they are stuck in the isolated airport due to a snowstorm the pilot is refusing to fly in. To add to the headache they must wait in the lobby alongside a hardened criminal, Jack, who soon makes “waste” of his security escorts. The passengers subdue him, but soon enough they realize that he is the least of their concerns when the alien impostors begin attacking, and leaving a gooey mess in their wake. As expected, they must now rely on Jack and his ability to kill in order to escape this ordeal, and the remainder of the film focuses on their quest to survive the night and fly on home. Abernathy’s story does not try to be anything it is not and instead focuses on the important stuff, like kills and alien action. Much to my surprise this was a much better story than I anticipated, especially when I learned that this flick is really a TV movie.

Cunningham’s direction is fair and it seems he did what he could with what he had to work with given the film’s very low budget. While the flick will appear cheap at first, once things get going and the action kicks in I found myself surprisingly hooked. The gore is live-action and the look of the aliens is positive, but what really sold me is the tension and action when the passengers go on the run inside the small airport. Cunningham brought Abernathy’s story to life during these scenes and gave us a full-frontal view of the carnage. Of course, the film’s biggest, and maybe only selling point, is Bruce Campbell, and he is his usual awesome self. I’m sure he did not have to try very hard for his measly paycheck, but seeing him portray an alien-slaying death row inmate is something we may never see again.

Overall, Terminal Invasion is a surprisingly better film than I expected, but it is still a mediocre TV movie. If you enjoy seeing Bruce Campbell in action then you may enjoy this more than you should, as I did. Cunningham and Abernathy do a good job at making the rest of the film watchable and even enjoyable at times, so if you find yourself like I did then this may be worth a shot.

Rating: 5/10

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The Last Days on Mars – 5

March 19, 2014 2 comments

Director – Ruairi Robinson

Cast – Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen

Release Year – 2013

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I only learned of this film a few days ago thanks to following Magnet Releasing on Facebook, and after looking into this film and seeing that it is not only a sci-fi/horror flick but stars Liev Shrieber and Elias Koteas this became the most important film on my queue, and I knocked it out right away. This is the first feature film from Ruairi Robinson, who broke onto the scene with his enjoyable short film BlinkTM a few years ago. Going into this piece I really was not sure of what to expect, especially after being somewhat let down with recent films involving mars and outer space, like Apollo 18, Europa Report (good but not enough horror), and hell let me take another chance to say that Ghosts of Mars sucked. I wanted to enjoy this film, and at times I did, but in the end The Last Days on Mars is an uninspired waste of good talent and a storyline we know and love but rarely see done right.

It is the last day of a 6 month mission when a crew member of Tantalus Base discovers fossilized evidence of bacterial life on Mars. Unwilling to let anyone else claim credit for his discovery, he disobeys orders to leave the site and subsequently falls into a deep crevice when the ground collapses. With his colleagues desperate to recover his body before going home, a rescue mission proves the life form is in fact still alive and very dangerous.

I love sci-fi/horror because it blends two genres that center on issues mostly outside of human control. With horror there is usually an otherworldly force that cannot be stopped, and with science fiction, this time involving space / another planet, we are the supreme underdogs in a world we have yet to understand. The Bunker writer Clive Dawson adapts this screenplay from Sydney J. Bounds’ short story, and gives us what I was hoping would be a story that would keep me engaged and captivated. Things start off a bit bland and will test your patience despite the early runtime, but by the 17 minute mark things get interesting when the protagonists come across the first signs of life on Mars. It is then that my interest was piqued and at the 27 mark we get our first sign of horror. When they come across the unknown life form they are unsure what it is capable of and I was left wondering what type of horror the bacterial life would produce, and 35 minutes into the film my questions were answered. Without giving too much away, I will say that I was very glad to see the horror become somewhat creature-based and not merely some lame virus. From then on out Dawson’s story provides enough horror and tension to keep me interested but never enough to keep me thinking I made the right choice in expecting this to be a solid experience. As a whole the story has everything I’d want to see in this type of film, but sadly the writing execution was bland and the story was never great and in my opinion only got worse as it progressed. Sadly, the horror became worse as well. When the initial horror hit I was ecstatic, but with so many of the kills occurring offscreen I was left underwhelmed.

Ruari’s direction helps to improve on the poor story, but is never good enough to save the experience. I liked his indoor atmosphere and the indoor sets, but the outdoor locations, filmed in Jordan, did little to make the film feel scary during the daylight sequences. The nowhere-to-run scenario made for some decent tension when the horror made its way inside the space station, and the look of the antagonist(s) was better than I expected for this type of flick. There is decent gore here and there but as I mentioned earlier, too many of the kills occur offscreen for us to really enjoy them. Thankfully, we do get good acting performances from both Live Shrieber and Elias Koteas, but with the rest of the film so poorly executed their performances are all the film is worth.

Overall, The Last Days on Mars is a flick I really wanted more from due to this starring some awesome actors and its sci-fi/horror storyline. While it has a few positives here and there and starts off pretty well, by the end of the film you are left with a letdown experience that should have been better.

Rating: 5/10

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Special Post: Top 10 Horror Movies of 2011

November 9, 2013 4 comments

Every year we are given great horror films to enjoy.  Some come to us in theaters and others we have to search for, but nonetheless the films on this list prove the genre is very much alive in this modern day.  The movies listed will be ranked according to their level of horror first, then everything else (direction, writing, etc.)  will be considered.  Now I give you the top 10 horror movies of 2011 and 5 honorable mentions.

10. The Shrine

– Jon Knautz broke onto the scene with one of the best flicks of 2008, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, and he scared the hell out of us with The Shrine. Heavy in atmosphere and slow-burning spooks, this experience builds and builds until it erupts in demon-fueled fashion. Read my full review for this film here: The Shrine

9. The Woman

– Lucky McKee (May) adapts horror novelist Jack Ketchum’s story about a family bringing in a literal “wild” woman in a foolish attempt to civilize her…and with disastrous results. The Woman is one of the most brutal and emotionally draining films of the year.  Read my full review for this film here: The Woman

8. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale give us an awesome horror comedy that comes with tons of laughs, great gore, and enough creativity to make this simple film an very original one.  Read my full review for this film here: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

7.  The Innkeepers

– After busting into the horror scene with The House of the Devil two years prior, Ti West gave us my favorite film of his, The Innkeepers. A slow-burning gem heavy in atmosphere and ghostly terror, West excels on every level – from his cinematography to the amazing comic relief, this atmospheric ghost story is a shoe in for this year’s top 10.  Read my full review for this film here:  The Innkeepers

6. Grave Encounters

– Boy is this a film that took the genre by storm. Delivered by the then-unknown Vicious Brothers, they took on the popular found-footage sub-genre and gave us one of the best horror experiences of the year. With plenty of scares, thrills, and chills, Grave Encounters is a low-budget film that exceeded expectations.  Read my full review for this film here:  Grave Encounters

5. Trollhunter

– One of the best “found-footage” films of all time, Trollhunter is fantastic horror film that gives us a great story involving an element seldom used in the genre these days: trolls. Along with the captivating story comes great filming from writer/director Andre Ovredal that gives us a very frontal view of troll horror unlike any I have seen in the genre.  Read my full review for this film here: Trollhunter

4. Attack the Block

– One of the best horror films I have seen this decade, Attack the Block is a highly enjoyable, adventurous film in the vein of Shaun of the Dead.  Pitting and urban misfit gang vs. an ape-like aliens with glowing jaws, Joe Cornish gives us the “coolest” film of the year and one I can watch again and again.  Read my full review for this film here: Attack the Block

3. Stake Land

Stake Land is not just one of the best films of the year but one of my favorite horror films of this millennium. I am not the biggest fan of vampire films, but this one is unlike the others and gives us an apocalyptic tale where vampires have decimated the world and a group of survivors must face unparalleled odds in hopes of surviving their new world. Heavy in both horror and drama, Stake Land is a joy that deserves more appreciation.  Read my full review for this film here: Stake Land

2. Insidious

– One of the best horror films of all time, James Wan and Leigh Whannel’s Insidious gave us old school horror in a modern day package and on the big screen. Shot on a very low budget and relying on low-budget tricks and gimmicks to seal the deal, we are given a superbly well-executed experience heavy in atmospheric horror. I fully believe that it was Insidious that opened the door for Wan’s The Conjuring, which is also one of the best films to hit the horror scene.  Read my full review for this film here:  Insidious

1. I Saw the Devil

– The horror takes a backseat to the extreme revenge element and I did not mind one bit as we watch the hero become the villain and the villain become the prey. I could talk about this film for days, but simply put – I Saw the Devil gives us almost 2.5 hours of the most brutal, downright horrific film experience of 2011.  Read my full review for this film here: I Saw the Devil

Best Short Film

An Evening with My Comatose Mother

– This film marks the first time that a short film makes one of my top 10 lists, and rightfully so. At only 30 minutes in length An Evening with My Comatose Mother not only delivers a solid horror experience but also delivers more horror than most full-length horror flicks these days. With a killer doll/clown and a demon possessed granny, this Evil Dead-esque piece is one that I just had to include.  Read my full review for this film here: An Evening with My Comatose Mother

Honorable Mentions

(Close But Not Close Enough)

Super 8

– While not as horror as I had wanted, Super 8 offers a solid creature film that despite a Goonies-esque feel still delivers good horror carnage.  Read my full review for this film here: Super 8

Final Destination 5

– 3 was mediocre and 4 was downright bad, but Final Destination 5 brought the series back to positive light.  Read my full review for this film here: Final Destination 5

Red State

– Kevin Smith’s “horror” film about a group of religious fanatics killing frolickers and then battling the John Goodman-led ATF makes this list even though it loses its horror focus.  Read my full review for this film here:  Red State

The Tunnel 

– What’s not to love about an amateur film crew searching a tunnel for a mysterious killer and finding what they are looking for?  Read my full review for this film here: The Tunnel

Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles may be the least devout horror film on this top 10, but it is most definitely worthy of its inclusion. Half alien invasion flick and half military thriller, this experience gives us lots of non-stop action that pits the US Marine Corps against an alien race of superior technology and firepower, but lacking the resolve of their enemy. Fast paced and early to deliver the goods, Battle: Los Angeles is a surprisingly good 2011 horror flick.  Read my full review for this film here: Battle Los Angeles

Check Out My Other Top 10 Horror Lists

Top 10 Horror Movies of 1980

Top 10 Horror Movies of 1981

Top 10 Horror Movies of 2005

Top 10 Horror Movies of 2006

Top 10 Horror Movies of 2007

Top 10 Horror Movies of 2008

Top 10 Horror Movies of 2009

– Top 10 Horror Movies of 2010

Thank you for reading.

Forbidden World (Mutant) – 6

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Director – Allan Holzman

Cast – Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera

Release Year – 1982

Reviewed by John of the Dead

A close friend of mine recommended this film, and all he had to say to me was “it’s an 80s alien flick produced by Roger Corman” to get me to give it a watch. Coming off as Star Wars vs. Alien, this cheesy watch gives us everything that is great about horror from decades ago, like tons of creature action, gore, and nudity. Of course, Forbidden World will never be mentioned in the same category as the films that influenced it, but this was one experience I enjoyed.

Set in the distant future, a federation “troubleshooter” arrives at a research lab to battle a genetic experiment that has gone rogue and begun feeding on the dwindling group of scientists.

Tim Curnen’s story starts off much like a Star Wars film, with Mike Colby awakening from hypersleep to battle enemy starships while en route to his new mission. It does not take long before he arrives at the research lab, and soon enough the carnage kicks in. The usual clichés are at play here but I found them fun and the “good” kind of cliché. There is plenty of creature action written into the film, and I enjoyed the fact that the creature would constantly metamorph into an even more dangerous organism – growing in size as well. His story includes plenty of on-screen deaths that keep things interesting and ensure good pacing, and with a runtime of under 80 minutes you should not find yourself bored with this piece.

Director Alan Holzman does well with this extremely low budget piece and gives us quite a bit with what little he had to work with. The cheese is of course plentiful and it comes via the acting, dialogue, creature FX, and starship battle, but nonetheless this is that “enjoyable” cheese fans of such films know and love. I was very impressed with the quality of the gore in this film and the sets, while cheap, were excellent and used to full potential thanks to low-lighting and positive cinematography. Holzman did not have much of a directing career after this piece, but I applaud him for doing well in a situation where many directors before and after him have failed.

Overall, Forbidden World is an enjoyably cheesy horror film that gets things right where it matters most: the horror.

Rating: 6/10

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Riddick – 7

September 19, 2013 3 comments

Director – David Twohy

Cast – Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Danny Blanco Hall, Noah Danby, Neil Napier, Nolan Gerard Funk, Karl Urban

Release Year – 2013

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The third film in the series, Riddick is an enjoyable conclusion to a trilogy over a decade in the making.  I really enjoy Pitch Black due to its heavy creature element and nowhere-to-run scenario, and while The Chronicles of Riddick was more of an adventure film to me I am glad to say that Riddick brings the series back to the horror genre.  Left for dead on a desolate planet and battling an alien race of predators, Riddick activates an emergency beacon that alerts two ships: one carrying a team of mercenaries looking to collect the bounty on his head, and the other captained by a vengeful man from his past. With two warring parties on his tail, the real horror hits when heavy rains fall and everyone on the planet desperately tries to leave with their lives.

Writer David Twohy returns to pen this story, and much to my surprise it comes with lots of development. The first 30 minutes are spent watching Riddick explore the barren land around him and conquer deadly obstacles that stand in his way. Animal lovers will rejoice when he successfully domesticates a dingo-like puppy and the animal eventually plays a significant role in the film.  Once this long development is over it does not take long before Riddick activates the emergency beacon, on purpose with the intent of stealing the ship and finding his way home, and soon enough we have 11 additional characters when the two ships arrive.  Given the ships consist of hardened mercenaries and bounty hunters you can expect colorful characters, and these characters thankfully add positively to the story.  Twohy’s written character play between characters is fun and makes for some good chuckles at times, which is only natural considering that Riddick isn’t known for talking very much.  The story plays heavily on Riddick’s ability to outsmart the enemy and rely on psychological tactics instead of brute force to get what he wants.  Twohy did a great job of pacing the numerous different elements of the story and things really kick into high gear when the rainfall hits and a deadly menace rises from the ground.  Much action is written into the film and along with this action comes good horror and some very solid gory kills, making for a final act that I found very enjoyable.

Twohy continues to direct the series he created and his direction is about as good as ever with this piece.  The atmosphere is fantastic and the sets used envelop us into the barren wasteland.  There are numerous action scenes that were executed very well and I was glad to see live-action gore where it was possible.  A lot of the creature action was CGI but I was able to forgive most of it due to the creatures being awesome and the CGI being used for scenes that would have been hard to accomplish with live-action FX.  The acting performances were what you would expect for a somewhat cheesy film heavy in action, but none of the performances were poor and in fact the chemistry between characters was pretty good.

Overall, Riddick is a solid experience that gives us good horror in a two-hour package.  The film is also heavy in action and badassery, which makes for a pretty exciting piece that never drags and stays positive until the end.

Rating: 7/10

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