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Starry Eyes – 7

January 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Cast – Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Women suffering psychological torture to attain what they want in life are a real life tragedy, and it is the basis of horror in Starry Eyes. I can’t think of many horror films involving an actor in a film, so this idea is unique in a day where genre fans are begging for something “new”. On top of this, the film dabbles into the cult sub-genre. Writing/directing duo Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, Widmyer’s employer, who happens to be famed author Chuck Paluhniuk, played a heavy role in helping the filmmakers attain the financial support they needed to make the film, which winds up as one of 2014’s most unique.

Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, an optimistic yet severely struggling actress desperate for her big break. When she finally succeeds at an audition for a major studio, she discovers the heinous secret behind the Hollywood elites she wishes to join.

The story begins with a strong emphasis on the struggle Sarah faces as she pursues her dream to become an actress. She works a dead-end job as a waitress for a lowly restaurant and a loser of a boss. In her free time she attends casting calls and the end result is usually the same – she never gets called. It is obvious she has talent, but the only person who is taking notice to it is…herself. Now when I say she “desires” to be an actress, I mean that in the most extreme way possible. After failed casting calls she makes drastic, psychotic decisions that leave her physically maimed. She finally gets her break though, when a notable studio gives her a shot after taking notice to her drive and determination. The casting directors are very odd, but don’t be turned off by them right away – their mannerisms serve a purpose. When she receives a second call back from the company her audition takes a more drastic turn than the first, and things begin to get fishy as I detected that something was very wrong. It isn’t until the 31st minute of the film when we start to get an idea behind what is going on with her auditions and the shady figures behind them. Without giving too much away, I can only say that there is a daunting secret behind how the Hollywood elites achieved their stardom, and Sarah has a decision to make. She can turn them down and keep struggling, or she can give in and pay her dues. I don’t think I am spoiling anything in saying that she chooses the latter.

The story begins a bit slow but you should still find yourself engaged thanks to the hell that Alex puts herself through. Basically, her torture is your entertainment. The first act is all development, and the second act is where I felt like the film started to lose me. The action is there, but for me it was unlikable. Alex begins to experience extreme changes in her persona and physical appearance, and her friends are taking the brunt of it. She deteriorates her relationships with those who have stood by her in her quest for stardom, and for no obvious reason (at the time). The second act left me thinking that I had maybe made a mistake in thinking this would be a good effort, but the third act changed all that. It is during the third act where the psychological horror becomes physical, and boy does it reach extreme levels. It is during this act that the first kill hits the screen, a whole 78 minutes into the experience. Trust me when I say this about the kill and the subsequent kills, they are worth the wait. It is not often that a third act is so good that it pretty much makes up for the rest of the film, but I believe that is the case here with Starry Eyes. The horror that erupted in this final act left me in awe, and to top it off the film’s climax includes a revelation that I did not see coming.

The directors did a fair job executing this film, with their talent showing during the awesome third act. They get things started pretty well, giving us gloomy atmosphere and proper “odd” execution of the quirky characters seen in the first act. Actress Alex Essoe gave a tremendous performance as Sarah, going from one emotional extreme to the other and delivering some of the best kills I have seen this year. If it were not for her incredible performance early on I am not sure I would have been as into the flick as I was, so she deserves a lot of credit for that. The directors definitely left their mark on the genre this year with the final act thanks to their execution of the kills. These kill sequences were brutal, shot in full-frontal fashion, drawn out to keep you squirming, and they come via live-action effects…which means you get some great gore. Hopefully these directors stick around and maintain the horror seen in this effort.

Overall, Starry Eyes is an incredible experience that I suggest to those who want to see something unique and brutal. Keep in mind that it may try your patience at first, but the payoff is well worth the wait.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

Chain Letter – 5

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Director – Deon Taylor

Cast – Madison Bauer, Mark S. Allen, Phil Austin, Nikki Reed, Michael Bailey Smith, Michael J. Pagan, Matt Cohen, David Zahedian, Cherilyn Wilson, Cody Kasch, Noah Segan, Brad Dourif

Release Year – 2010

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I normally don’t “Redbox” flicks simply because most of the horror films at the Redboxes in my area are crap, but since I have a fair amount of viewers who must rely on Redbox for their horror I figured I’d get a couple of their current horror flicks out of the way, and Chain Letter is up.  I had heard of this film previously, but never really had an interest in giving it a watch, and my gut-instinct proved true with this one.  The story is one that I had yet to see despite it having strong similarities to other horror films, but the writing execution of this piece really makes for a poor experience only moderately saved by the film’s numerous amazing kill sequences.

When an anonymous chain letter claiming that those who do not forward it to at least 5 people hits the populous of a small town high school, some students brush it off as the usual spam nonsense, and others play into it over fear something may happen to them.  However, this time the game has changed when a savage killer begins killing off those who do not play by the rules and forward the letter.

I had low expectations going into Chain Letter, but as usual I was hoping that it would turn out to be a good to maybe just decent watch in the end, and with a somewhat forgiving attitude I found enough joy in this flick for it to not be a complete waste of my time.  The storyline was an interesting one because anyone associated with technology since the 1990s knows of chain letters and how darn stupid they are, but I had never seen this well-known element used in the horror genre until I came across this one.  The idea of not complying with the rules and suffering untimely death is not a new idea though, brought to us beforehand by films like One Missed Call, Ringu/The Ring, and even Saw, but nonetheless I found this overall storyline to be pretty cool given those who broke the chain letter were killed off by a savage killer, although a supernatural killer/element (as with One Missed Call) to the deaths would have worked as well.  Speaking of the deaths, the kills written into this piece were incredible and made for some of the sweetest kills I have seen in recent time.  I enjoyed how a strong anti-technology element was written into the film, namely the partial reasoning behind the killings which included references to “Anonymous”.  Unfortunately for the film’s three writers – two of which wrote Nite Tales: The Movie and The Hustle – the film’s biggest faults lie in its story.  The dialogue is pretty bad and definitely reeks of an amateur effort scrapped together in a very short timeframe, and many questions are left unanswered and in unforgivable fashion.  That is about all that is wrong with the storyline, but those two faults existed for pretty much the entire film.

Director Deon Taylor(Nite Tales: The Movie, The Hustle) did a decent job with this effort, giving us a well-shot film with seemingly good production value (especially for a DTV effort with no “names”) that suffers execution issues at times.  I hated the quick shot editing used all throughout the film, which seems to be a constant element used in bad horror movies that directors can’t seem to abandon despite the knowledge that such tactics normally equal bad movies.  The acting was decent at times, but sub-par on numerous occasions.  There are certain cases where bad acting is forgivable in a horror film, but the acting in Chain Letter is not of that variety as I can tell that said actors were hardly making an effort.  Thankfully, Deon Taylor gets something VERY right in this film, and that is the kill sequences.  I was very pleased to see not only the heinous nature of the kills, but the kills coming in live-action fashion and with plenty of gory goodness.  Taylor’s execution of the kills was great, giving us a full-frontal experience that had me laughing at loud at times over how awesome the kills were and how the actors simply served as cattle to slaughter.  The usage of the killer was OK, with him just being used to deliver the good and never showing his face nor uttering a word, something that left me a bit unsatisfied in his character, but thankfully not the horror he delivered.

Overall, Chain Letter is a flawed effort whose story never delivers a positive end result and leaves us hanging for most of the film. Taylor’s direction was so-so overall, but the kills thrown into this film are phenomenal, as are the action sequences, which are pretty much the only reason why this film receives a mediocre rating at best.

Rating: 5/10

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever – 5

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Director – Ti West

Cast – Noah Segan, Alexi Wasser, Rusty Kelley, Marc Senter, Giuseppe Andrews, Mark Borchardt, Michael Bowen, Regan Deal, Judah Friedlander, Rider Strong

Release Year – 2009

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is a film I had been looking forward to for quite some time.  After enjoying director Ti West’s The House of the Devil I was curious to see how he would execute a film that by its subject matter alone tends to lead towards the gory side of things.  Well, after this film’s completion in 2007 it sat on the shelf for two years before finally releasing in 2009, and with less than favorable results.  The film went through numerous edits and re-shoots, resulting in a final product that Ti West did not want his name attached to.  While I did find some enjoyable scenes in this film, the mess created is obvious, and makes for a mediocre watch in the end.
After the events of the first film, the flesh-eating virus makes its way to the bottling plant of a popular water company.  The bottled water then makes its way to the local high school, who is celebrating their prom that very night.  Sure enough, the virus takes effect as the town’s young folks are congregated at the school’s gymnasium, which leads to mass panic and bloody results.

Don’t you just hate it when a film starts off so well, then finishes so poorly?  That is the case with Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, and it brings a sad realization of just how badly producers can screw up a film.  I am not saying that Ti West’s original project would have been awesome, but seeing some of the re-shoots that the producers added proved to be the worst scenes in the film, so I think I have a point.

Story-wise this flick had a lot of promise, but the story is what ultimately dragged this watch down from a positive rating.  The idea of a virus in the water has been done before, and an outbreak at a prom dance has been done before(Dance of the Dead), but I accepted those ideas because this is not a zombie outbreak, but an infection that does not transform people physically, just something that eats away at you and causes mass panic.  While this idea played out well, we get quite a few plot holes and some downright ridiculous scenes that should have never been filmed and did nothing to move the film.  This is exactly the case with the closing sequence, which was downright ridiculous in that it focuses on a mere side character that we minutely see at the beginning of the film, and completely abandons the main characters of the film entirely.  To make matters worse, producers have touted that the film STARS Rider Strong, but beware :SPOILER: he is only in the first minute of the film.  Yeah, sleazy producers.

As far as direction goes Ti West did a formidable job with this otherwise crappy film.  His unique camera work added a cool feel to the film that I did not expect, and his musical score is groovy as hell.  For a horror film I usually do not prefer such musical scores, but for what this film was and Ti West’s way of execution it did not harm the film in any way.  Going into this watch I expected a gory mess, and for the most part that is what we get.  West thankfully relies on live-action gore instead of the lame CGI gore we see nowadays, and his panic and chaos is well executed.  Sadly to say, I really hope that West’s future films do not suffer the producer-induced embarrassment this film went though.

Overall, this is a mediocre watch that started off well but crashed and burned thanks to the ridiculous antics of the film’s producers.  The action is good and gory, but the story suffers from many plot holes and scenes so useless this film never had a chance.

Rating: 5/10

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